The smell of rain hit her nostrils as she opened the sliding glass door. It was a door she hated opening, especially since she didn't know how things were standing at the moment. She scanned the tiny backyard, taking in the dry pavement and the browning grass. The summer's heat wrapped itself around her scantily clad, thin frame, making her wonder if boxers and a tank top was too much material for a day like today. In the distance, a few birds chattered warily, sounding more exhausted than she'd heard them in a while.
"I get it. It's hot." She said, moaning. Dropping her hand from the door, she turned away and headed for the kitchen. It was adjacent to the tiny living room. Each step made her wish that she had enough money to get her air conditioner repaired. The cool tile met her bare feet with a content welcome. She glanced longingly at her oven as a sweat bead fell down the side of her face. "Too bad it's so hot; I feel like baking."
In the apartment above hers, she could hear the faint wails of a baby. The young mother, who had birthed the child, disappeared a few months after she and her husband had moved in. Her husband had done everything in his power to try and find his missing wife. Nothing turned up.
A soft knock on the door made the girl jump. She turned her attention off of the stove and headed out of the kitchen. As she made her way through the living room, the sun escaped from behind the clouds and bathed her apartment in light. Smiling softly, she reached her front door and squinted through the peep hole on the door. It was the man from upstairs, along with his child. She swallowed and quickly undid the locks, pulling the door open.
"Jason." She said, clearing her throat.
"I don't mean to interrupt you, Mina." Jason said, running his fingers through his hair. "But I was wondering if you'd like to join Laielah and I for breakfast. She's just so...calm when you're with us."
She looked at Jason and at Laielah. Jason wore a pitiful smile on his face, his brown eyes pleading with her grey ones. "Sure. Just let me grab my phone." Jason nodded, sighing gratefully. She left the door open as she headed to her desk. Since his wife's disappearance, she and Jason often shared meals. It kept his mind off of his wife, and Laielah really seemed to be captivated with Mina. Mina grabbed her phone from off the desk and slipped it into the pocket of her boxers. She didn't bother changing, as she knew that Jason didn't care how she dressed. She glanced at him, seeing that he was wearing a tank top and boxers as well.
"I made waffles. I know how much you like them." Jason said, a sad smile twitching on his face. "And bacon. I...I like bacon. I...I know you...I know you don't. But, uhm."
"Jason. It's okay. I know you like bacon." She said, walking back over to the door. Laielah was fast asleep in the baby carrier that was strapped to his chest. Jason stepped away from the doorway as Mina stepped into the hallway, grabbing her keys from off the table next to the door. She closed the door gently and slid the key into the keyhole, locking it. The two walked up the stairs to Jason's apartment in silence.
"It's clean in here." Mina remarked as he opened the door, letting it swing open. Jason laughed sheepishly.
"My mom stopped by. She...uh. She likes to, uhm."
"Clean?" Mina said. Jason nodded. He extended his arm behind Mina and let her go in first. She walked through the doorway, glancing at the clean floor. In the month or two that Mina had been joining Jason and Laielah, she'd never seen it without toys, clothes, bottles, and various other garbage strewn everywhere.
Jason closed the door softly behind him and began to undo the straps on the carrier that held Laielah. "I gave her, uh, bottle before I, uh...before I went, uhm."
"To come get me?" Mina said. He wasn't eloquent with words. He nodded, a blush creeping over his cheeks. It highlighted his high cheekbones and hid under the two day old stubble that he refused to shave off. Though he ate all his meals, his already thin frame began to look gaunt. The muscles that Mina had noticed when she first met him were a distant memory.
Jason crossed in front of Mina, placing his daughter in her crib. His apartment was smaller than Mina's; only one bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room. Mina felt bad to see Laielah sleep in the living room. She ran her fingers through her shoulder length red hair, wishing she had brought something to tie it back with. She glanced at Jason, his own bangs hanging in his face.
"So, uh. Breakfast." He said, turning to face her. Mina nodded as he stepped away from the crib and took Mina's hand. She felt the blood rush out of her hand as his fingers laced themselves around her hand. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came to her. He didn't seem to notice as he led her into the kitchen. Two plates sat on the counter, one with just waffles, the other with bacon and waffles. Jason let go of Mina's hand and reached for the plate with just waffles. He handed it to her and she placed it on the counter in front of her. He stepped over to the sink on the opposite wall of the counters and opened a small drawer. He pulled out two forks and two knives and closed the drawer silently. Handing a knife and a fork to her, he walked over to his own plate.
"Sorry about, uhm. No, uhm. Chairs. And. Uhm. Tables. I mean, table." Jason said as he picked up a piece of bacon. Mina shrugged, sticking her fork into the waffle. It collapsed around the prongs as a bit of batter spilled out.
"You say it every time, Jason." Mina said, placing the fork and the knife down. "I'm not feeling too hungry right now. Do you mind if I take a shower? My apartment is really hot and I feel kind of sticky."
"Go ahead." He didn't notice the deflated waffle. Mina nodded and left the room, and headed toward the bathroom. She turned on the light and closed the door. Though the rest of the apartment was never particularly clean, the bathroom was always spotless. She never asked why that was.
With a sigh, she pulled back the curtains and twisted the lever up. Water shot out from the spigot. She pulled the stopper up and water began to fall from the spout instead. Mina yanked the curtain to its original place and stripped off her clothes, letting them fall the ground. Her bathrobe hung from the door, waiting for her to wrap herself in it.
As she waited for the water to warm up, Mina walked over to the door and pressed her ear to it. She was greeted with silence. Not that she expected much else; Jason didn't have a TV or a radio. She hated the silence, though. It made her feel on edge. It made her remember.
"Mina! What are you doing here?" He asked, the open doorway exposing his half naked frame. His shorts hung dangerously low on his hip bones, a dark trail of hair extended up from the band of the shorts to slightly above his belly button. His chest was slightly damp, as if he'd been working out. Mina felt herself blush, her freckles disappearing behind the rosiness.
"I came to discuss my grade, professor." She said, her voice dissolving into a squeak. "But, I can see that now is not a good time!"
He smiled and shook his head. "You just caught me off guard. That's all. I was running." He coughed and opened the door wider, exposing a treadmill to her. She nodded. "I'll just put on a shirt. Come in. Make yourself at home."
He left the doorway and headed over to the leather couch. Mina let herself inside and closed the door behind her, feeling her heart slam against her rib cage. She swallowed painfully, realizing her mouth was dry. The hardwood floors creaked softly as she walked over to one of the leather recliners. The room was bathed in candles; the light illuminating the faux brick walls. She took a seat at the edge of the chair and pulled her messenger bag off. She watched as he picked a teeshirt from off the couch and put it on, the tight material really doing nothing to disguise his figure. He flopped down onto the couch and looked at Mina, studying her.
"So, like I said." She squeaked as she glanced down. She grabbed her messenger bag and opened it as quickly as possible. She could swear she heard him laugh at her efforts. She pulled out a folder and let the bag fall to the floor. "I mostly came over here because of this paper. You gave me a B. I know that I should have gotten an A."
She didn't look up as he cleared his throat. "What makes you say that?"
"My paper was in depth. It answered all the questions on the criteria paper, plus the extra ones. I spent all my time on this paper."
He reached out and gently took the folder from her hands. She felt her heart begin to race again as she looked up. He opened the folder and began to skim through the paper.
"You're right. This is a good paper. It does deserve more than a B." He began. Mina let out a breath as a smile crossed her face. "But, I'm afraid it's too late. I had to turn in my grades this morning."
The smile vanished as soon as it had come. "Isn't there something that I could do?"
He looked up at her, a dark look in his eyes. He tossed her folder onto the glass coffee table in front of him. "There is, actually." He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and lifted it over his head. She looked at him, confused. "You're gorgeous, Mina. Too gorgeous to just let it all go to waste."
Mina jumped up from off the recliner and backed away from him. "Sir. I…this isn't…I'm a student. You're a teacher." He walked over to her calmly and pressed up against her.
"No one will know, Mina. Besides. That A would look really good. And, I could even write you a letter of recommendation, if you wanted. Anything you want, baby. You give me a little of what I want, and I'll make sure to give you want."
Mina took a shaky breath as she felt his hand slide up her blouse. "Sir. This is wrong. You…you could get into trouble."
He pressed up harder against her. She could feel his boner through his shorts. A feeling of dread ran through her body like icy chills. "Not if you don't tell, Mina. Besides. It'll be fun." His hot breath ran itself down her cheek as he planted a kiss on her jaw bone. His stubble scratched angrily at her face. "Just relax. Enjoy it. I promise that you'll love it."
She didn't squirm away as he began to kiss her neck. He pushed his fingers up under her bra to feel her breast. "I just want this to end. Why did I come here in the first place? Please let him get bored. I don't want to do this." She thought. He stopped kissing her neck and looked at her.
"This is probably uncomfortable for you." He said as he pulled away.
"Thank you!" She thought. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her to the couch. No! Her mind was racing. Why couldn't she say this out loud?
She dropped to the couch as he sat down next to her. "It'll be easier if you straddle me." Her mind was screaming. She knew she should run. Call the police. Do something. Mina stood up and lifted her left leg. She knelt on the couch, her left leg touching the outside of his right one, and her right leg touching the outside of his left one. "Just get it over with. There's nothing you can do but comply. It'll be over before you know it. Hopefully." She thought as he moved his hands to unbutton her jeans
"You'll love it, baby. I promise. I'm real good at what I do." He said as he leaned in and kissed her on the mouth. She didn't fight it. It would be over soon enough.
She pulled the shower curtain back and stepped out of the tub. Steam covered the bathroom, just as she liked it to. She grabbed a towel as the last drops of water fell from the spout into the tub. As Mina dried herself off, she tried to listen for any noise coming outside the bathroom. Nothing. With a sigh, she flipped her hair over and draped the towel around her hair. She twisted the towel and straightened back up, letting the impromptu turban sit on her head. She opened the mirrored cabinet and grabbed her deodorant from off the second shelf.
"It must be uncomfortable to see my deodorant and my robe here." She mused as she capped the stick and placed it back in the cabinet. Closing the cabinet, she reached over and grabbed her robe from off the rack. It was her favorite robe. The silkiness made her feel like she were a rich woman, rather than the poor freelance photographer that she was.
Mina opened the robe and draped it around her, tying the sash quickly. She pulled the towel from her hair and let the damp strands fall down gracefully.
Placing the towel back onto the towel rack, she let out a deep breath and opened the bathroom door. She walked out of the tiny room and into Jason's bedroom. He sat at the edge of the bed, seemingly waiting for her.
"You, uh. You smell…um. Good." He said, stumbling slightly on his words. She entered the room and closed the door behind her, locking it.
"It's just easier when you don't talk." Mina said, sitting down next to him on the bed.
"You, uh. Were in the shower, uhm. For, uh. Longer than, uhm. Usual." He said, glancing at her. "Everything, uhm. Okay?"
"It's fine, Jason." She said, smiling. He moved in slightly, almost as if he were going to kiss her on the mouth. He faltered slightly and kissed her on the cheek instead. It was their rule. Never kiss on the lips. He moved his hand over to the sash on her robe and pulled it slightly, letting the robe fall open.
"Do you mind if, uhm." He began as she slid her hand up his tank top. "If I call you Delaire?"
"I never do. You should know that by now." Mina replied. He smiled as he dropped his hand between her legs. She spread them slightly.
"I love you, Delaire."
"Delaire used to, uh. Smoke. After we, uh. You know." Jason said. Mina nodded, not particularly wanting to hear about the quirks of his missing wife.
"Have you heard anything from the police? About Delaire, that is." She asked, glancing at him.
"No. Uhm. I, uh. Probably um. Never will." He replied. "Delaire. Uhm. She. She killed herself."
"How do you know?"
"She. She left. Left uhm. A note. She. She said she uhm. She couldn't handle, uhm. Raising Laielah. She was, uhm. A model. When we met. I got her, uhm, pregnant. She worked, uhm, until, uhm. She gave birth. Uh. Then, uh. She couldn't find work."
"She killed herself because she couldn't raise a kid or get a job?"
"She couldn't, uh. Live her, uh, life with…uhm. With…with a man she, uhm. Didn't love."
"That's terrible, Jason." She said. Jason didn't respond. Pursing her lips slightly, she slid out of the bed and stood up. She walked around the bed and picked up the robe that had been left while the two did their deed. "I've got some work to do. Come by my apartment around six. It's my turn to cook."
He didn't respond. She looked over and saw that he was interested in a spot on the wall. He looked as though he was fighting not to cry.
She unlocked the door and opened it. Crossing her arms over her chest, she made her way over to the bathroom. She picked her clothes up from off the floor and put them on quickly. With a sigh, she made her way through the living room and headed toward the door. A sour smell invaded her nose and made her gag. Mina looked in the crib and saw vomit near Laielah's face. "Jason!" Mina screamed.
She heard him jump out of bed and run over to her. "What's wrong?" He looked into the crib and his eyes bulged. He ran over to the kitchen and picked up his phone off the counter. "Is she still breathing?"
Mina bent down and scooped Laielah from out of the crib. Her face was burning up. After each breath, the infant let out a high pitched whoop noise.
"Yes." Mina said as Jason dialed. "You're going to be okay, Laielah. Daddy's going to call the ambulance, and they're going to make this all go away."
She left before the ambulance came, not wanting to be around. She was scared for Laielah. Could the infant die from this? Mina didn't want to know the answer.
She instead tried to focus on the pregnancy test in her hand. It was from two weeks ago. Mina hadn't taken her birth control for a few days, and she and Jason had slept together in that time. She didn't need the pregnancy test to confirm what she already knew. The problem was when to tell him. She couldn't afford abortion, but Jason could. He came from a lot of money. He would support whatever decision Mina made. He was too much of a wreck to support this child.
Her ringing phone made her jump. She grabbed it from out of her pocket and hit the send button.
"Hello?" She said. All she heard was sobbing. Her heart fell. No. She threw the pregnancy test against the wall, tears spilling out of her own eyes.
"This…this. I'm…going. Like Delaire." He whispered, sobs choking his words.
"No. Jason. No. That's crazy talk."
"I…no more. Nothing. To live….for."
Mina didn't know what to say. She couldn't tell him. She couldn't let him kill himself. But, she also couldn't make him stay alive. Not when he lost so much.
"It gets better. Eventually. We'll get you some help. Someone can make it all better." The line was silent. Mina pulled her phone from her ear. Call ended was flashing on the screen. Mina let out a sob. It racked her body forcefully. She wrapped her arms around her body as she wailed.
"Don't go. Don't go. Please don't do it." She called out to no one in particular. "You'll get through this. Just don't do it."
She fell sideways onto the couch and continued to sob. She had to do something. Call someone. Not just lay there and cry.
A knock sounded at the door. Mina jumped. She squinted in the dark, looking for her clock. When did it get dark?
The knock sounded again. "Coming." She said, wiping her eyes. They stung. She stood up and walked over to the door. She tried squinting though the peep hole. Realizing that it was useless, she instead unlocked the door and opened it.
"Jason!" She cried, throwing her arms around the man. He didn't respond. "Please don't do it. Please. I don't want you to."
"Ma'am. I'm not Jason. I'm with the Chicago police. We came here because you were the last call on Jason Foltre's phone. We found him dead in his apartment. We were wondering if you knew anything about it."
Mina let go of the officer, her heart aching. He did it. He didn't even stop by to let her plead with him. He just went to his apartment and did it.
"He killed himself." She said.
"Mind if I come in?" The officer said. Mina left the door and the officer stepped in. "Let's take a seat. Tell me what you know about the Foltre's."