Summary: Mona revisits painful memories in the Bronx.
Notes: This is my entry for Day 3 of Ride or Die Appreciation Week! I tried to look up some Arabic terms of endearment and I read that “جميلة” means “beautiful” and is a common term of endearment from parent to child. I apologize to any Arabic-speakers if that’s incorrect.
Mona stood across from the house in the Bronx, eyes traveling over the chipped paint on the eaves. She thought that after all these years it wouldn’t feel so familiar, but Mona felt like she was seventeen all over again. Her mother’s car was in the driveway and the kitchen light was on. If she were to walk inside, Mona was certain she’d smell the familiar aromas of her mother’s cooking. Then again, Mona didn’t really know if her mother still cooked. Maybe her hands had gotten older and more tired and she often ate takeout instead, although Mona doubted it. Her mother was old school and would likely cook right up to the day she died, keeling over the cutting board.
Mona often worried that her mother was dead. She had friends, of course, but no one to really look after her. That was supposed to have been Mona’s job, but she’d failed. She’d failed at a lot of things. Mona had failed to live up to her mother’s hopes and dreams of her only child graduating high school and going to college. She’d often thought that her mother deserved better than a car thief for a daughter, but we don’t always get what we want.
The days were still hot, giving off the illusion that summer would last forever, but there was a brisk chill in the air after the sun set that told a different story. Mona pulled her jacket a little tighter around herself as she continued to stare at the house.
“I know you work hard, جميلة, but try to have a little fun every once in a while. You’re only young once, Zaina.”
Mona figured her mother had meant for her to go on a date to the movies with a nice boy, but that hadn’t happened. Not even close.
“Oh, god,” Zaina gasped as she leaned her head against the window in the backseat. Erin sat up, smiling smugly as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “That was…”
“I know,” Erin said as she tried to catch her breath.
“God, you’re cocky,” Zaina said. Erin laughed and picked up Zaina’s hand kissing her palm.
“Hey, I have a favor to ask you,” Erin said.
“I’m not going to write your Shakespeare paper for you.”
Erin laughed. “That’s not what I’m talking about, but I’d love to revisit that later. No, I need help with a…job.”
“What kind of job?” Zaina asked.
“It’s…okay, look, I’m just going to come right out and say it,” Erin said, her face growing serious. “I’m working with these guys and they need me to lift a car.”
“Lift a car?” Zaina asked slowly.
“Steal it,” Erin said. “Look, I know this isn’t something you want to do, but I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t really need your help. You’re super smart and I can’t really trust anyone else with this.”
“Erin, are you kidding?” Zaina asked. “This is…I can’t do that! You can’t do that!”
“I’ll split the money with you, 50/50. You’ve been wanting to get a new computer for your mom, right? You could get her a top of the line one and still have a bunch left over.” Erin paused, studying her face. “Zaina, please. I…I’m kind of in trouble with these guys. This is my last chance.”
Zaina considered this for a moment, eyes fixed on the foggy car window behind Erin’s head. “Fine.”
“Thank you,” Erin said quietly, kissing her hand again. Her lips drifted up Zaina’s arm, ghosting over her forearm, tickling her inner elbow, and brushing up to her neck. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Mona didn’t like to think about that day at the police station, but it was impossible to avoid the memories when she returned to this street. Just three days after her eighteenth birthday, she’d ruined everything.
“We have to stick together, no matter what,” Erin said as the blue and red lights closed in on them. Zaina nodded.
“I will, I swear,” she said. She swallowed hard. “Erin…I’m scared.”
“I know, baby,” Erin said, leaning over to kiss her one last time. “Me, too.”
Erin had rolled on her almost immediately. She got out, and Mona had taken the fall. She could still feel the dull ache in her chest when her lawyer had explained everything to her.
“She said it was your idea and you coerced her,” the lawyer said, a nice enough man in a rumpled gray suit with the remnants of a mustard stain on his tie.
“That’s bullshit!” Zaina exclaimed, slamming her hand down on the table between them.
“It’s the narrative she’s spreading and it’s going to be difficult to get in front of it, especially because she said you’re the one who actually broke into the car and hotwired it.”
“Yeah, okay, I did, but–”
“Look, Zaina, is there anyone you want to call? You’re going to need some support in this.”
Zaina thought of her mother and her heart twisted with shame. “No.”
“Are you sure? Because–”
“I said no.”
Mona wasn’t entirely sure why Teppei had posted her bail or what he’d even been doing in New York at the time. However, she wasn’t entirely sure it mattered. He’d posted her bail, recruited her, and the following day they left for LA. She’d asked to make one stop and he’d obliged.
I’m sorry. I wish things could have been different. I’m okay, but please don’t look for me. I love you.
Teppei hadn’t asked what was in the letter or who it was for and for that, Mona had been grateful.
“Are you hungry, Zaina?” Teppei asked as he navigated the car onto the highway. “We can stop somewhere if you are.”
“Can I ask you a favor?”
“Seems I’ve already done you several favors, but sure,” Teppei said, an amused smile quirking at the edges of his mouth.
“Will you call me Mona?”
“Mona?” he asked, confused. “What’s wrong with your name?”
“I need a fresh start,” she said. They drove in silence for a while, the road rolling away beneath the car.
“What year?” Teppei finally asked.
“The Santagata Mona Lisa. What year?”
Teppei smiled. “I knew bailing you out was the right decision.”
With the sun fully behind the skyline, night quickly descended on Mona’s childhood street. The chill in the air deepened, but Mona wasn’t ready to leave. Not yet.
Ten minutes later, she saw what she’d come for. It was only a moment, but she watched as her mother walked by the window. Mona couldn’t make out many details from her vantage point across the street, but the details of her mother’s appearance didn’t matter. She still remembered her mother singing to her when she was little, the way her mother taught her to cook, the way she’d kissed Mona on the top of her head on her way out the door on that last day. Those were the details that mattered most to Mona.
Mona stared long and hard at the house one last time before she turned and walked down the street. It was time to go.
Click here to support me on Patreon and get writing tips, prompts, and exclusive content available only to patrons!
I can’t guarantee that supporting me on Patreon will cause you to have endless good hair days . . . but I can’t guarantee that it won’t either.