Greenwood Park

"Didn't expect you to be the one to reach out first this time." Misha said as she sat down on a bench in the shade next to Mia. "So, what's up?" The tall, blonde woman looked gorgeous in her shorts and sleeveless orange shirt. It was clear why Misha was one of the most sought-after girls back in high school.

Mia drank from a bottle of cool water as she thought of her words carefully. She didn't want to waste Misha's time. Misha had cancelled an appointment with another friend just to spend time with Mia.

"So, I've been thinking a lot about what you said." Mia confessed. "And I have to say in all honesty…." She looked at Misha and faltered for a second as the older woman waited patiently for her answer.

"Whatis wrong with people? How can they treat sex so casually?"

"I…" Misha blanked in startlement. "Pardon me?"

"How can people today be so loose, so immoral, so hedonistic?" Mia said angrily, taking another sip.

"I don't understand." Misha said. Mia rolled her eyes derisively. Misha didn't like her arrogant attitude but stayed her tongue.

"No. Of course you don't. Baby Boomer parents grew up thinking sex was something to be played hard, fast, and loose with. How could we count on them to teach us to treat something like sex responsibly?" Mia spat, standing up and pacing around in agitation. She turned to Misha, who seemed more confused than ever.

"Uhm, okay? Where are you going with this?" The older woman asked. Mia didn't seem to be listening.

"Why do you think abortion is a national crisis? Why do women hate their own children? Why do we have divorce lawyers? Why are there orphans? Why are kids born out of wedlock?" The questions flew at automatic rifle speeds as Mia shifted into high gear, her voice getting louder with anger. Mia kept ranting. "Why are millions of men addicted to porn? Why is sexual deviance so prominent in the entertainment industry? Why does society mock honest, down-to-earth traditional women like me while celebrating blasphemous whores who throw themselves at a man just because he's wealthy and well endowed? Never mind the fact these men are often old enough to be their fathers. Doesn't this grab you with any force?"

Misha was flabbergasted. Mia didn't wait for her answer. "That is what is wrong with people today. They are taught that something as important, as intimate as sex is to be used and discarded like a piece of meat. That is why men and women today can never stay committed to one partner for long. That's why so many perverse deviants who should never be married, have children, and honestly, shouldn't have been born, are allowed to run rampant all levels of society." For a girl who didn't talk much to strangers, Mia sure knew how to ramble when the situation called for it. She was showing no signs of slowing down.

"Look at the quality of men we have today. Feeble, unhygienic, obese, underweight, out-of-shape, unhealthy men doped up on medication with rap sheets ranging from DUIs to unpaid child support. Unemployable men who can't or won't hold jobs. Men with kids from multiple women. Men who can't stay committed to a single woman for life and think marriage is dating version 2.0. Men who smoke, drink alcohol, eat the worst foods known to man, and get off to porn. Is it any wonder people treat sex in such a loose, casual manner?"

Misha tried to make sense of this awkward conversation. "I don't get your point. There are always people who treated sex in a loose, casual manner no matter what society you go to. There are always people who use and abuse others for sex because they're in a position of power over that individual. There are always responsible men and women who have job, support families, and contribute to society. Your point?" Misha was beginning to see that Mia was not all who she thought she was. She was growing increasingly annoyed at the sanctimonious tone of the conversation.

"Then why does society punish honest women like me?" Mia said, still refusing to sit down and continuing to pace about. There was no one watching them, but Misha still felt uneasy by Misha's constant pacing. "Except for my one sexual encounter with Joe when I was 16, I have lived as clean and straight a life as you can get. I never smoked, drank alcohol, used medications, or committed a crime. I never went to debt for a degree that would not pay off. I've worked and supported myself since I was 18 years old. I live a minimalist life. I don't drive. I don't watch porn. I don't eat meat."

Misha finally had enough and stood up. "Just what are you trying to say? That the world isn't giving you some kind of recognition you deserve for being such a chaste, wholesome person? Did you seriously call me all the way out to this park just to tell me what a wonderful person you are and how everyone else is immoral and somehow less deserving of a chance at life than you are because they engage in all the vices that you don't?!"

Mia blinked, stunned being interrupted. "That's not what I…"

"That's exactly what you're saying! You're upset that everyone else isn't somehow as pure and virtuous as you. I told you that there will always be people who treated sex in a loose, casual manner no matter what society you go to. There will always be people who use and abuse others for sex because they're in a position of power over that individual. There will always be responsible men and women who have job, support families, and contribute to society. There will always be lazy, weak people who can't or won't work to support themselves." Misha flipped her blonde hair out of her eyes in frustration and took a deep breath. "For a grown woman with over a decade of adult life under your belt, she knows absolutely nothing about life in general." Misha told herself in frustration.

"I've been supporting myself on a full-time job since I was 18 years old. I've seen enough." Mia said.

"What jobs have you been working, exactly? Daycare doesn't count as a real job, you know." Misha said sarcastically, smirking slightly.

"I was a cafeteria cashier for 4 years in NYC. I was a warehouse worker for 5 years. My last job was as a UPS postal clerk. I quit this month." Mia said. "I left all of my jobs on good standing. Never job hopped."

Misha waved a hand and cut her off. "Alright, never mind. So, what do you want out of life?"

"To get married and be a traditional woman." Mia said. That much was true. Misha nodded in understanding. She was a mother herself after all.

"Fair enough. So, what's the problem, exactly?" Misha continued.

"I can't traditional man willing to do same." Mia asked, slumping over in defeat. "This life continues to fail and disappoint me at every turn. Except for Joe."

Misha thought about telling Mia that at the last high school reunion, one of the guys had Joe's contact info. But so long had passed that Misha wasn't sure whether Joe still had feelings for Mia.

"Only thing I remember was after Joe got expelled, the police handcuffed him and I never saw or heard from again." Mia continued, the long-buried feelings seeping out of her. She hadn't even told Daisy some of the things she was about to say. "I dated 6 men, 1 per year for 6 years. Most were losers with nothing in life. Weak beta men who couldn't hope to be husbands or raise families."

Misha didn't have anything to say to that. She got lucky when she met Shane in college. Most other women would have to go through many different men before they found a suitable husband. That said, she doubted the credibility of Mia's words regarding that last statement. Mia wasn't an easy girl to please and get along with. Everyone who went to school with her knew that.

Misha cut her off. "In your mind, what qualifies a man as a husband beyond anything you've already told me."

Mia opened her mouth as if to speak but after some pondering, reached into her handbag and pulled out her thick journal, flipping to the pages that contained her extensive checklist of standards that a man had to meet to be hers before handing the book to Misha. "Don't turn to any other page. Give it back to me when you're done. You have 5 minutes." Mia said seriously. Misha didn't reply and simply read through the entire checklist as Mia watched her the whole time, making sure the older woman would not peep at another page without her permission.

Misha read through the whole checklist, paying special attention to "the gauntlet". "No use of blindfolds or restraints during sex. No oral or anal sex. No touching me in places I don't allow. No getting violent in sex. Must be able to keep up with me during sex. If I want more sex, you are obligated to give me more. If you pass all these tests, you are worthy of the goddess." She read aloud with amusement. Mia snatched the book away, slamming it shut

"I didn't say you could read that part!" Mia snapped. But Misha had seen enough already. She looked at Mia long and hard. Mia didn't wilt under her gaze. Misha didn't need to say anything.

"All that talk about chastity and proper womanhood and now you want to be a seductress? A man-eater? Is that what you were all this time?

"I'm not a man-eater. I've never preyed on anyone." Mia said. Misha sighed and wiped her eyes, looking away. She seemed to be holding back tears.

"Mia, I'm going to tell you something deeply personal to me." Misha said quietly, sadly. "You might recall I told you I'm a divorced single mom. I lied. I'm still legally married to my husband but we are not together because Shane was in prison for 3 years."

Mia blinked in surprise. Misha looked away into the horizon and continued, her voice cracking a little. "I met Shane when I was 19 and just starting college. Shane knew how hard life could be. He didn't even know his father. His mother was an addict, living with whatever boyfriend she was dating at the time. He bounced around various relative's houses. Got in trouble with the law as a kid. Didn't have much of a future out of high school. He couldn't get into the military because he served time in juvenile detention. He would tell me that if didn't land a basketball scholarship to go to state university, he'd probably be dead or in prison.

"Shane and I hit it off almost immediately, as if we were meant for each other. You only knew Joe for 1 year at most. I dated Shane for 4 years. Every hour spent outside of class, studying, my job, and volleyball was spent with Shane. The man was my world to me. Whenever I felt life box me into a corner, he was there. He was the rock I braced myself against. He was there for me when I had to drop out of college for a year to care for my terminally ill mother and pay her medical bills. He was there for me when my mother passed away and I suffered a bout of crippling depression afterward. He was so upbeat. So optimistic. So energetic and enthused about life. It seemed nothing could shake him."

"Due to the 2-year gap, I graduated from college when I was 24. All my friends had graduated and moved on. After I graduated, I married Shane and we moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. He was recruited into the NBA's Nevada team Las Vegas Kings. We had Evan the next year." Misha took a deep shuddering breath. "But our money problems didn't go away. After scraping by, working full-time and going to school part-time for so long, the sudden lure of fame and money- it just got to Shane's head. When he was injured in a car accident and couldn't play basketball anymore, he-" Misha stopped and put a hand over her eyes, her shoulders shaking. "I don't even know, Mia. I don't know who the hell this person was anymore. His substance problems came back with a vengeance. He was angry with me. Angry with our son. Staying out late drinking. I'd come home to find him passed out with beer bottles, half-eaten fast food wrappings, and vomit all over the sheets."

"He was in rehab for a year and we thought he sobered up. Until one day, he got into an accident as he was driving our son home from pre-school. The police pulled him over for speeding." Misha sat back down. "They told me that Shane was intoxicated, drunk out of his mind, with our son in the backseat. They tried to apprehend him. He got violent and beat the police officer to an inch of his life in full view of our 3-year old son. Evan just told me over and over again. "The policeman wasn't moving, but daddy kept hitting him." Over and over."

Misha wiped her teary eyes, letting out a long shuddering sigh. "I remember seeing him in court and just the next few moments being a haze. I remember screaming something horrible, hitting him, wanting to kill him for what he did. He didn't try to fight me. I had to be carried out of the room by officers. Shane was sentenced to 5 years for driving under influence, endangering a child, and assaulting a police officer. I didn't visit him. I didn't let our son see him for a year. Until I got news that they found him unconscious with blood spurting from his wrist. He tried to kill himself. Shane couldn't live with what he did."

Misha stopped crying and continued talking as Mia listened in spellbound silence. "He was released 3 months ago. I actually didn't know he was released until Dana saw him and told me she ran into him. He told her they let him out early due to good behavior. I initially didn't know what to tell my son at first. What would I say to him? That his father is out there but didn't come back for him? That's what I live with Mia. Every day. I live with the fact that the father of my child was released from prison 3 months ago and hasn't come bac home. I live with the knowledge that he might not even be alive. He could be homeless. He could be dead. He could be living in another state with another wife and kid."

Misha stood up, dusting herself. "And you know what? After all that's happened, I still love Shane. I still believe he's changed. I still believe he will come back to us. I never gave up on him. I never stopped believing. I didn't even call the police because I still believe he will return. Can you live with something like that, Mia?"

Misha shook her head, a look of contempt filling her eyes. "No, I don't think you can. Because knowing you now, you'd abandon your man as soon as he became too much of a burden for you. You'd blame God and everyone else but you. What could you possibly understand about being in a committed relationship, being a mother, a wife? You think you're owed the best in life. You just outright admitted you want a man who caters to your every whim so you can feel powerful and in control. And here I was, thinking that you were just a shy, troubled girl who needed a friend. How wrong I was. Maybe people were right about you. Do the world and yourself an enormous favor. Please stay single. You are unhappy with life enough as it is. And don't contact me again. We have no reason to see each other."

"I won't. I'll just pretend this meeting never happened." Mia said. "And you are the one who wanted to reach out to me first."

Misha and Mia stared at each other one last time. Mia didn't seem sure what expression to wear on her face. Misha was staring at her with a mixture of anger, pity, and sorrow. Misha turned and walked off. Neither of them noticed the lone figure watching them from a distance. A figure with silver hair and shades.