Janice M. Whiteaker
Mina tried again to stuff her left foot into the uncooperative Nike. Why did everything have to put up a fight when you were teetering on the brink of sanity? What had she done so wrong to make the universe so hell bent on bringing her down?
She chewed hard on her lip, hoping the pain would keep the tears at bay just a few seconds more as she yanked the shoe back off her toes to tug at the laces.
Mina took a deep breath trying to find any remaining calm left inside her scrambled mind before attempting to put the shoe on one more time. If it didn’t go on, she would be walking barefoot. She had to get out of this house and she had to get out now.
By the grace of God, it slid easily onto her foot. Her fingers worked franticly, tying the laces as she blinked almost continuously, trying to clear her eyes of the tears creeping in at the edges of her irritated lids.
The minute the shoes were knotted, she almost jumped off the couch and froze, standing still for a few seconds to be sure the house was quiet. The thought of the kids waking up needing her only to find her gone made the lump forming in her throat feel like a boulder, but the idea of them waking to find her a broken down mess was unbearable.
They needed to see her being strong. They needed her to show them everything would be okay and seeing her sobbing until she puked would not send that message.
She silently twisted the doorknob and reminded herself that Charlie and Maddie were snuggled up together with her parents in the next room. Everything would be fine.
She stepped onto the porch and took a deep breath as the door closed behind her. It was almost midnight, so the humidity level outside was almost bearable. She stood for a minute, rubbing her arms as goosebumps from the dramatic change in temperature tightened her skin, making it ache right along with her throat.
She felt like she’d been holding back tears all day. In reality it was more like days. Maybe even weeks. It was beginning to wear on her, physically and mentally. Her head hurt, her eyes felt like they were on fire, her throat was tight and scratchy and each day she felt one step closer to losing her mind.
She stepped off the porch of the house she grew up in and walked down the driveway. She could still remember making the same walk on her sixteenth birthday to climb into the passenger seat of a beat up Chevy, her dream boy in the driver’s seat beside her.
That was many, many years ago. It felt like different life. A life before she was a mother and wife, and before that dream boy was corrupted by money and power.
Before he ruined his life. Before he ruined his children’s lives. Before he tried to take hers.
Mina took one last look at the dark two-story before walking quickly down the street, needing to put as much distance between herself and her children before she gave in to the self-pity.
It felt like a betrayal. Every day, she told them everything would be okay. She was okay. They were okay. Every day she lied.
She was not okay. She didn’t know if everything would be okay.
Mina walked faster as the tears started to fall. She let them run down her cheeks and trickle onto her neck refusing to wipe them away, almost enjoying the feel as she finally allowed herself to feel the effects of the past few weeks.
She wasn’t an idiot. She knew something was going on with her husband, but she assumed it was more along the lines of an affair. Another woman would have explained most things anyway. A divorce was most certainly coming, whatever the reason for his odd behavior. Mina just didn’t realize she’d be lucky to make it to a divorce.
Then she found what he had hiding in the garage. All one-million powdery dollars worth.
It still wasn’t until her husband’s hands were wrapped tightly around her neck that she really knew just how far they were from those two teenagers in her driveway.
Now here she was, a star witness in a federal investigation, a victim of domestic violence and feeling completely, utterly lost in her own life.
Mina swiped at her nose and looked around. Her life might not be the only place she was lost. She blinked to clear her eyes as she looked around trying to orient herself.
It had been years since she’d walked this neighborhood. The trees were bigger, the houses updated. The dark wasn’t doing her any favors either. The shadows made everything look much different than it did in the day.
She could barely make out a street sign a few houses up. It was a name she recognized. The houses around her suddenly seemed much more familiar with the street name to place them. She walked toward the sign, turning right once she reached the corner, once again confident in her navigation.
Unfortunately, the momentary distraction of potentially being stuck wandering the streets for hours trying to find her way home, had given her time to work up another good cry. Soon she was blowing her nose on the hem of her shirt as she let it all come out, tired of fighting the sadness and pain and fear.
Completely absorbed in misery, snot and tears, she didn’t hear the noise beside her until a blur of snarling fur came flying out of a darkened yard headed straight for her.
If her string of profanities brought any of her night-owl neighbors to their windows, they certainly enjoyed quite a spectacle as she turned and ran screaming back up the sidewalk glancing over her shoulder at the clearly rabid raccoon she had obviously offended in some way.
She ran as fast as her legs would carry her, praying as she went that her sense of direction would be more reliable than it was a few minutes ago. She ran until her chest began to burn before she dared another look behind her. Certainly the animal would have pooped out long ago, but she didn’t want to take any chances.
The sight of it scurrying along, much too close for comfort, had her picking up the pace.
It was a persistent little bastard, staying close on her heels until she was almost home before it slowed down and just sort of fell over.
The stab of guilt she felt at possibly running the wild animal to death, made her pause to consider going back to check on it. That thought was significantly overruled when she imagined the fur ball leaping up as she got close and using its grabby little hands to climb up her body to scratch out her eyeballs and eat her face off.
Instead, she kept running and didn’t stop until reaching the safety of her parent’s foyer. Locking the door behind her, she turned her back against it and slowly slid to the cool tile floor.
She closed her eyes and tipped her head back against the door sucking air into her starved lungs. Maniacal laughter began to bubble up and out of her throat. It had been so long since she had laughed, really laughed, and there she was cackling like a lunatic alone in the dark on the floor, wheezing while she tried to catch her breath between bursts.
As good as it felt to cry, it hadn’t done nearly as much for her mental state as running away from that damn raccoon. She sank down a little farther as the central air cooled her skin and her breathing slowed.
Mina’s eyes flew open. She was on the floor, still by the front door. Maddie and Charlie stood over her, still in their pajamas.
“What are you doing?” Maddie’s eyebrows were drawn together as she took in the sight of her mother sprawled out on the floor, the early morning sun coming through the windows beside the door making lines across her face.
Mina pushed herself into a sitting position. “I was sleeping.”
She moved her head from side to side and stretched out her legs. She was a little sore, but for the first time in a long time she felt… okay.
“On the floor?” Charlie looked at her like she’d lost her mind and he wasn’t too far off.
“Yup. I was really tired I guess.” Mina shoved her achy body up and off the floor. “You guys want some breakfast?”
She turned to find them still in place, staring after her. She walked back to them.
“Mom, is everything okay?” Maddie’s voice was shaky and her eyes glistened with tears of uncertainty.
Mina smiled as she wrapped her children in her arms. No matter what it took, they were going to be fine. She was going to be fine. Maybe even better than fine. “Everything is okay.”
And for the first time, she meant it.
Thank you for reading Running Wild.
If you enjoyed this peek into Mina’s life, you can see how much her world changes and just how happy she, Maddie and Charlie end up. My full length novel RUN picks up where Running Wild leaves off.
You can find it on Amazon at
And you can start reading the first chapter right now.
“For the love of God Mina, be careful. My insurance doesn’t cover your ass.”
“Throttle back Paul. This isn’t my first rodeo.” The ladder barely moved as Mina readjusted the positioning of her right foot. Her building contractor had it in a death grip as if his substantial weight parked on the bottom rung wouldn’t suffice. She looked down at the thick hedges, their branches sticking like giant fingers between the rungs. “Those damn bushes made it impossible to get any closer.” If she didn’t like the way they made the front of the house look, she’d have them chained to Paul’s bumper, yanking them out of her way.
“Just don’t break your neck.” Beads of sweat dotted his forehead as he squinted up at her. “Damn it Mina. I don’t understand why we have to do this. There are people you can call for this you know?”
“Calm down. It will be fine. Just give me a second.” For a big strong man he was turning out to be quite the baby today.
Bracing her left foot on the trim framing the top of the picture window below her, she leaned as close as possible without losing her balance and aimed for the papery honeycomb dangling from the soffit.
“You better get it on the first shot or they’ll be mad as hell.” Paul swiped at his sweaty forehead, the ladder shaking as he moved. “Jesus Christ why did it have to be wasps? Why not spiders or roaches? They can’t come near me Mina.” Paul’s voice got a little higher and his words a little faster. “I can’t be responsible for my behavior if they get near me.”
“Stop moving. I’m shooting lefty and I’ll miss if you can’t stay still.” Bracing herself in preparation for a speedy decent, she squeezed the trigger on her can of chemical death.
“What’s happening? I need to know what’s happening.”
“I’m trying to blast the shit out of them. Calm down.” She kept her finger firmly on the trigger, completely coating the nest and anyone who dared try to escape her wrath. As she was stretching to inspect the fallout of her attack, the ladder jerked under her foot.
“Paul!” Grabbing the gutter above her head for a little added stability, Mina looked over her shoulder toward the bottom of the ladder. Paul was gone. Great. Testing the ladder, she decided it was probably stable enough without him. Hopefully.
“Wimp. Should have waited for Maddie to be out of school.” At least her daughter wouldn’t have abandoned her.
Mina slowly straightened and started to lean her weight onto the ladder, keeping her grip on the gutter just in case. Getting both feet in the same place would be the tricky part. After that she should be fine.
The little bit of momentum it took to push her left foot off the trim was enough to send the ladder slowly leaning away from her. As she scrambled to get a better grip on the gutter she tried desperately to use her right foot to steady the toppling ladder. Mina’s mind raced while she tried to think of a way out of her predicament. Was the gutter strong enough to hold her weight? Maybe she could pull herself up on to the roof and wait for Paul to come back. Then he could help her down so she could kick his ass.
She tested the gutter, putting a little more weight on the flimsy aluminum. The gutter groaned under the added weight. She eased back off before it could pull free and she landed in those damn bushes she just had to keep.
There she hung, holding onto a gutter that could give out at any second, left foot dangling, right foot barely keeping the ladder from completely abandoning her and falling to the ground. “Damn it Paul.” Suddenly, the ladder pushed back under her foot and held steady.
“About time. What the hell happened?” she yelled down as she planted both feet on the now sturdy ladder.
“Didn’t know you were expecting me,” a smooth deep voice teased below her. Paul’s voice was many things, gravely, strong, well-worn, but definitely not smooth. She knew that voice. Damn it. Fate was dishing out some shitty luck today.
“Sorry. I thought you were Paul.” Mina scrambled down the ladder as quickly as possible almost feeling the singe from eyes burning their way up her legs to settle on her ass. Reaching the bottom she had to hold back a shudder at the arms caging her between a necessary evil and the ladder that did it’s damndest to betray her.
“Hey Don. Paul was helping and disappeared.” She tried to force a friendly smile knowing it didn’t matter how sincere it looked. She pointed up at the nest that started this whole fiasco. “He’s allergic to wasps.”
“That would explain him running around the front yard swatting and screaming like a little girl.” Don grinned at her, a gleam in his icy blue eyes as his biceps flexed beside her ears.
Mina struggled to maintain her composure, finding the situation at the bottom of the ladder even harder to deal with than the one at the top. Keeping what she hoped was a congenial smile plastered on her face she edged under the vein-y, overly tanned arm on her left. If she had to be that close to him much longer, there’s no telling what would come out of her mouth and explaining to the slimy building inspector just how unwanted his blatant advances were, would be the kiss of death for any future project she attempted in the city limits.
Don’s smile didn’t waver as she tried to put a more comfortable distance between them. It really was too bad he was such a schmuck.
She’d consider his face handsome if she didn’t want to punch it on such a regular basis. He had a great body he obviously worked very hard to maintain. She’d been able to appreciate it for the five minutes it took to squelch any consideration she might have given him. There were probably more than a few women who had fallen for his good looks and over the top charm. There was a time she might have too. Unfortunately for him, that time had long passed.
“What brings you by?” She needed to direct the conversation until she found Paul. Surely he saw Don pull up. Knowing her extreme distaste for the man who, judging by the look on his face and the tent in his pants, was currently imagining her naked, Paul should be coming around the corner of the brick house any second. Unless he was so distracted by the kamikaze wasp he missed their unwelcome visitor.
Resting his arm on the ladder rung above his head, Don flexed his considerable bicep and winked at her.
“Just doing some rounds. Checking out some jobs in the neighborhood.” He brought his hand up to his hip and adjusted his stance, pushing his obvious interest in her front and center.
Refusing to look at what he must consider one of his proudest accomplishments, she took a few steps back and pretended to look for Paul. The extra distance from him and his sad little pants teepee made her feel incrementally better. Just as she was about to suggest they find Paul and do a walk-through together, Don began slinking her way, closing the small gain she made with a few determined steps.
“I feel like you don’t like me Mina. It hurts my feelings.”
“Of course I like you.” She bit the words out, trying to keep her cool, but he was pushing her limits. Don didn’t seem to notice her growing annoyance as he continued to slither her way, his eyebrows low over his crystal blue eyes. She needed to smooth this over.
“You have been really helpful on this project. It has been so difficult and Paul and I appreciate your expertise.” She tried to give him just enough to pacify his ego without giving him any more reason than he already thought he had, to believe she might be interested in him.
He paused and cocked his head. “You and Paul?”
It was only a momentary reprieve. He began coming toward her again, this time faster, forcing her to back up or deal with his body against hers. Just the thought of it made Mina careless and before she knew it, her back bumped into something hard and unmoving.
The house. She had her back against a wall, literally.
Stupid. So freaking stupid. How could she let him corner her like this? She was not the kind of woman who backed down when a man pushed her. No. She pushed back. And right now she wanted to push Don. Right off a cliff.
Unwanted advances were nothing new. Normally she would make it very clear she was not interested, but he had her stuck between a rock and a hard place, no pun intended, and he knew it. Not being able to deal with him the same way she would any other asshole had her scrambling. She either had to figure out how to handle this guy or pick another profession and that wasn’t an option. Construction was all she knew.
Her mind raced as she looked for an escape route. Then she noticed Don was stopped dead in his tracks annoyance smeared across his face.
Mina closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t the house that she’d backed into, but another equally immovable force. Obviously recovered from his earlier wasp debacle Paul had come to her rescue. Feet planted, standing tall and imposing behind her with his hands on his hips and a shit eating grin on his face he looked every bit the hero he was.
Having back up cleared Mina’s mind and she picked up where Don left off. “Yes. Paul and I are so grateful for your assistance and support with this house. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been without you as our inspector.”
She gave him a genuine smile. He didn’t have to know it was because she was genuinely ecstatic at Paul’s timely arrival. “Didn’t you want to do a walk-through? Paul and I would be happy to take you around.”
There was no way Don would believe she and Paul were a thing. He was old enough to be her dad and treated her like a daughter, but maybe if she said “Paul and I” or “we” and “us”enough, it would make him wonder just enough to deter his advances for a bit. Maybe long enough to be done with this house and if she could come up with a plan B, him.
There were plenty of foreclosures and distressed properties around here to choose from, so she might just avoid buying places in his jurisdiction for a while. Let him cool his jets. Hopefully he would find a new love interest. No. She couldn’t wish that on anyone. Maybe he could just relocate… or become impotent. That would probably save the members of her gender a lot of hassle.
Don didn’t hide his annoyance at Paul’s interruption any more than he hid his earlier boner. “I have other places to be.” He looked Mina’s way, his eyes serious and almost threatening.
“Good thing I stopped by when I did to catch that ladder or you’d be in an ambulance right now.” He nodded Paul’s way, not taking his eyes off her, “No thanks to him.” A smug grin spread across his face. “Maybe sometime you can return the favor.”
Before she had a chance to spit a snarky retort in Don’s face, Paul saved her once again, this time from herself. Stepping casually between them, he put his arm around Don. “I should be the one to make it up to you man. She would have had my ass in a sling if she hit the ground. Let me take you out for a beer as a thank you for saving me from the boss.” Paul threw her an affectionate wink over his shoulder.
“I don’t drink beer. Too many carbs. Doesn’t fit in to my macros.”
“What the hell’s a ma-crow?”
Don eyes brightened and he immediately perked up as he proceeded to educate Paul on his ridiculously strict eating plan. That explained the body. Paul did his best to seem engrossed in the explanation of portions, ratios, and grams of carbs, fats and proteins, as he took one for the team. Looked like she would be making a batch of his favorite brownies as an offering to honor his sacrifice, albeit an ironic one.
Twenty minutes later, Don was belted in his white city issue truck, waving out the open window and promising to bring Paul more information about his fitness plan at their next inspection.
“He seemed real happy to tell me all about that food stuff he does.” Paul rubbed a big calloused hand in a circle over his six-pack-a-night belly. “I think he’s tryin’ to tell me something.”
The pent up emotions of the day, the fear from her almost fall, the stress of dealing with Don, the irritation of those damn wasps, all decided to release simultaneously. Paul standing there, rubbing his pooch and looking down at it like he wondered where it came from, sent Mina into a laughing fit. She bent over at the waist, put her hands on her knees and just let it all loose. She laughed until her stomach hurt and her eyes watered sending tears running down her face. The look of indignation Paul tried to give her only made her laugh harder.
Sitting down in the grass of the front yard she gulped in deep breaths as she tried to get it together. “I’m sorry. It’s been a really long afternoon.”
“I’m glad I could provide you amusement.” He sat down beside her on the lawn and slung a hefty arm around her shoulders. “Too bad you missed me running around screamin’ like a sissy, waving my hands around my head like a lunatic,” he gave her another wink, “you’d of wet your pants over that one.”
That set her off on another laughing fit, and this time Paul joined her. After a few minutes more of laughter at his expense, Paul turned to her, suddenly more serious.
“What’s up with Don?”
“His dick for starters.” She told Paul about the ladder tipping and Don trying his best to trap her into— She shuddered not really sure she wanted to know what he was trying to do.
“I figured as much.”
“I wish I hit the ground. It would have been a more enjoyable experience than his exceedingly inappropriate attempts at seduction.”
Paul busted out in a roaring laugh. “No way! He would have insisted on personally checking every part of you for broken bones. Probably would’ve tried mouth to mouth too.”
The thought of his hands or even worse, mouth on any part of her body made Mina want to gag. “Sick Paul. Just sick.” She tried to shove him over in the grass, but his big body didn’t even move under her push.
“You need to work out more little girl. You’re seeming a little weak.” He chuckled as she kept pushing so she landed a punch on his shoulder.
“Ow!” He rubbed the spot where she hit him. “Better. Still needs work though.”
“If you hadn’t saved me from the twat, I’d punch you again.”
“You do owe me for that.” He paused as he looked thoughtfully into the quiet, tree lined street that ran in front of the house. “What are we gonna do about him?”
Mina sighed. “I have no clue. He’s just so cocky and dense. He wouldn’t realize a woman wasn’t interested until he was in the hospital bent over an eye wash station trying to get the pepper spray out.”
“Don’t you dare pepper spray him Mina.” Paul wagged a big finger in her face. “We are almost done with this God forsaken house and if you screw us by pissing off the building inspector, I will tan your hide.” With his serious expression and raised brows, it was almost the same look her father had given her so many times growing up. Thinking about her father brought the sudden urge to cry. Being so far away was awful.
She threw her arms around Paul’s sweaty neck and squeezed him tight. “I won’t. I promise.” Paul was one of the best men she’d ever known and she’d sort of adopted him as her surrogate dad. No matter what, he would always have her back and she would have his.
“It’s alright kiddo.” Paul stroked her hair and hugged her back. “We just gotta get this house done and move on to the next one. Preferably one far away from his sorry ass.”
“I was thinking the same thing.” She leaned her head back and looked at him, staying in the comfort of his embrace. “Thank you.”
Paul smiled and gave her an affectionate wink.
This was their sixth house together. When she first moved here, Mina went through a number of contractors trying to find someone who would treat her like an equal. Paul didn’t treat her like an equal necessarily, but he respected her ideas and recognized her abilities when it came to remodeling. He never assumed she was incapable of something just because she was a woman. As a bonus, he never tried to hit on her which was more than she could say about the majority of the other men she worked with.
He was actually recommended by one of the guys she fired. As the no-longer-employed contractor was packing his tools and grumbling about never working for a woman again, he suggested in a not so nice manner that Paul might be the only one around here who could deal with her… crap. Apparently the guy was better at referring than remodeling and she and the big burly construction worker hit it off right away and became fast friends.
They made a great team. She was motivated and goal oriented, always worried about money and time. He was laid back and careful, making everything as perfect as humanly possible. She kept him on track, he kept her grounded.
“Well, I’m starving. I think I’m gonna go grab some lunch. Wanna come with me?”
Mina stood up, dusting loose grass and a couple ants off the butt of her pants. “Nah. Thanks anyway. I’m gonna go do a walk-through and start a checklist. I want to be done in time to get the kids from school and not have to come back. I think I want to spend the evening with them and just relax.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it. Relaxing isn’t in your skill set.” Paul fished his truck keys out of his jeans pocket. “In that case I might just head out for the day too. I need to pick up a part for my baby and give her some attention.”
His baby was a shiny orange 1969 GTO. He’d had it forever and was more than a little attached to it. He hadn’t been married as far as she knew and didn’t have any kids so she guessed the car filled a void for him. A dog might make more sense, but who was she to judge?
“We can meet back here first thing tomorrow and go over that list you’re starting. Try to knock out as much as we can. Get this thing on the market and put it far behind us.”
She stood on the covered porch of the brick two story and waved as Paul pulled away from the curb. She grabbed her notepad and started her list.
In this short story, the pressure of being a good mother, a victim of domestic violence and a federal witness is getting to Mina. Something has to give and there's a pretty good chance it will be her sanity. Will she fall to pieces or does an aggressive pursuer help her adjust her attitude? This is an outtake from the full length romance novel RUN, but can stand on it's own two feet as a complete story.