The somber boy was sitting on a chair near the bed, holding the dying woman's thin, bruised hand. His eyes, red and swollen, kept looking at his own shoes, unable to face his mom, who had been comatose for the past few days, thanks to the high doses of morphine that kept her pain at bay. He knew, any moment now, she would leave him for good, but was scared to death of witnessing the moment. And yet, he was unable to leave that chair and even his father, Mr. Strict Burton Fallin, had failed sending him off to school for the past three mornings.
Every now and then a nurse would come in, check on Anne, the dying woman, and pat the boy on his shoulder. However, nothing appeared to be changing and Nicholas just hoped it continued that way, because he was well aware that his mom's health could only change for the worse.
He had been ten when his mom had first undergone surgery and therapy. Nobody had told him the truth. Not his mother, who blatantly lied to him and told him about a very minor surgery. Not his father, with whom he had unwillingly stayed during his mom's hospital stay. Nicholas remembered being scared. It was the first time he had been away from his mom, and his dad did not know much about his tastes and habits. Burton had always been a hard worker, and even so after the biter divorce. Nick was still very angry with him for walking out on them and being with him for about a month had been awkward, so, when his mom had come home and had taken him back he had been the happiest boy. Now, sitting in that chair, he tried to remember spotting signs of his mom's disease, but he could not. He had been too happy to notice something was wrong, and he felt guilty about it.
He also felt very guilty for being angry with her when, about six months earlier, his mom had driven him to his dad's home and told him that house in Squirrel Hill would be his home for ever. He hardly knew Burton and, in his opinion, being sent to live with him was a punishment What had he done to deserve such a treatment? Sure, he disobeyed every now and then, but everyone kept telling him he was a good boy. At school he was a straight-A student and he never got into trouble. At home, he even accepted being beaten up by Hugh, the retarded boy who lived next door, so Anne would be happy. And as a result for being such a good son, he had been sent away.
He gave a quick look to his mom and whispered 'Why didn't you tell me? I would have helped taking care of you.' His mom did not even stir.
He still remembered the day, about a month ago, when his father had called him into his office at the Frick building, and told him his mom had been admitted to a hospice. Nick had never heard that word, but as soon as he had walked through those halls, he knew his mom was going to die. He had seen the sadness in fellow visitors' eyes, and he had had a glimpse of a few of the patients in other rooms. Some of them were moaning feebly. Nick had never heard such a sound, and it had scared him so much that he had reached for his father's hand out of pure instinct, immediately letting it go as soon as he had realized what he had been doing. And then, his father had told him not to cry. He had to hold back his tears because seeing his son's sadness would have upset Anne. And Nick had succeeded, he had not let his parents down. Pressing his lips hard, he had listened to his parents telling him he would soon loose his mom without dropping a single tear. He had not been able to hug Anne, though, nor to talk.
Exactly like he was doing right now, he had kept looking at his own shoes.
A gurgling sound ended the thread of those sad thoughts. He forgot how he was supposed to call for help, and instead of pushing the bell switch, he cried out loud 'Help! My mom needs help! Please come!'
A nurse came running, and started talking to Anne, holding her other hand. Nick just cried to the nurse 'Give her something to make her better. Just this time only, please! Don't let her die yet!', but the gurgling sound soon stopped and Nick knew she had gone for ever. He could not cry yet. He was so shocked, he kept standing and holding his mom's hand. He wasn't even aware of what was going on around him, but fought hard when someone tried to break the only link he had with his mom, that hand still squeezed in his hand. When a voice he should have known, but did not remember, called his name softly he replied with an angry 'Go away', and when a big hand tried to free Anne's hand from his, he started fighting even harder, kicking the big hand's owner and punching him until he realized he was Burton, who closed him in a bear hug and dragged him out. There, Nicholas let go, hugged his father back and started crying. He cried and cried until the funeral home people came, then he returned to strong boy mode and watched his mom being taken away from him.
The following days Nick was slightly dazed. He could not cry any more, nor he sought comfort from his father. His home in Parker Street was always full of people: relatives, neighbors, friends. He greeted them, accepted their sympathy and hid in his bedroom. There he laid on his bed, his eyes shut to the world, thinking about all those times he had heard his mom tell his dad 'You're gonna kill me'. That's why she got sick, he thought, she got sick because dad broke her heart. The sorrow she had felt had caused the cancer to her ovaries.
The day of the funeral nobody had noticed that whenever Burton had tried putting his arms around his child's shoulders, Nick had shrugged him off. Not even Burton had noticed, he was too taken by his own pain to notice his son was not only hurt, but really angry.
And then, after the funeral, life started again. Burton went back to his firm and Nicholas went back to school. He wanted everything to be as nothing had happened. But everything had changed. He took the bus home, instead of finding his mommy's smile in front of the school gate. At home a nanny waited for him, but he dodged her with his homework excuse. It was humiliating for a twelve year old to have a baby sitter, and he did his best to spend as little time possible with her . If he did not have any homework, he would find a hidden spot in the garden and sit and think about all the good times he had had with Anne, or he would drive his blue bike across town to Parker street, where his real home was, and he let Hugh beat him, so he would have a reason to cry. When his father realized about his son's bike rides he sold the home, giving Nick one more reason to be angry at him. He slept early, because he had found out that when he slept he did not feel any pain and because doing so he could avoid talking to his dad.
Burton worked all day long, and he usually came home to find Nick already sleeping. Working hard was the only way of coping he knew, and, to be honest, he was too much into his own grieving that was truly unable to see his son's pain. Besides, the nanny always told him everything was OK with his son.
So, when the school called, a few months later, to tell him they were worried about Nick, he was truly surprised. According to the school's principal, Nicholas was withdrawn. He would spend his school days daydreaming, his social skills getting poorer and poorer, and he even had gotten into a fight. His grades had not suffered, yet, but it was clear to the team Nick needed some change in his life.
Burton did not know what to do. He chose to take some time to think about it, and when the school year was over, he sent his son to a 6-week-long summer camp.
On the day Nick had left, Burton was not so sure he had made the right choice. His son literally looked disgusted. But when he came back, late in July, he looked different. He even hugged his dad. Being away from home for the first time in his life Nick had used those six weeks to come to term with a few things. For one thing, he had realized he missed his dad. Angry as he was about all that had happened, he he realized Burton was all he had left, and he had decided to try hard to make things better with him. He would start spending time with his old man.
However Burton read too much into the change. He believed that living in a community of children had helped Nick feel happier and the idea he had had while Nick was gone did not seem so wrong any more. Sure, letting his only child go would be hard for him, but if it was the only way to see him smile (Oh God- thought the lawyer- I don't even know how many baby teeth he's still got in his mouth!) … he would send him to a boarding school. Even if that meant he would virtually loose his son ten months after loosing the woman of his life.
When Nick had been told by his father he would attend a boarding school in the fall he had not believed his ears. Burton had the voice he used when he usually announced the best treat ever. 'We're going to spend our week-end at Disneworld" and 'I'm sending you away to a boarding school where you'll stay for the next five years' was the same fun to his father. Nick did not even try to make his father change his mind. His heart sank. All the propositions he had made during his camp stay, based on the idea his father loved him, were crushed. Nick felt he was just a nuisance for his father. Well, if his dad did not want him he would go away. 'When will I start?' he asked.
Late that night, Nicholas could not hold back his tears. During summer camp he had counted the days until he would be back with his father, and now he was rejected. Again. First his dad had rejected both his wife and his son, then his mom had rejected him, and now his father was rejecting him for good. Nick knew he would never be back home, if not for the holidays. He would stay at boarding school until high school graduation, then go to college and then to law school. He was doomed. 'I'm an orphan. I'm alone.' He cried himself to sleep.