Lillian Meckler Scott always had problems with men. Her oldest son was now seven, but his father was nowhere to be found. The guy split when he found out that she was pregnant after a six month relationship. She cursed him every morning when she woke up and every night when she went to bed. She had named her son Tony Alan Scott. Her father's name was Alan, and her grandfather's name was Tony.
Lillian got dressed for work and brushed her hair, admiring how long she had grown it out. Her father always loved her hair. She slid a butterfly shaped diamond clip into her hair, remembering how her father used to do it for her before he died. When she was a little girl, he had brushed her hair every morning, always singing his lullabies to her and sliding the clip into place before kissing her head and sending her off to school. Her mother had died when she was only three, so she didn't remember her much, and her father died when she was 16, leaving her with her grandparents. They never minded her much, but she usually kept to herself, always hiding in the attic to cry her eyes out.
She shook her head, bringing herself back to reality. She wiped a tear from her eye and went out to the kitchen to feed the boys. Her other son, Jacob Meckler Scott, had just turned one last week. She made funny faces and sounds as she fed him his food. Tony liked to help make him laugh and was protective of his brother. When he had found out that Lillian was pregnant, he jumped up and down, ran around the house like a madman, and stayed up half the night talking to her stomach. She knew that they would be close, and she loved the idea. Tony already acted mature, as if he was already a grown boy.
Her boyfriend, Michael, came into the kitchen late, tying his neck tie with a smile. He kissed both of the boys' heads and grabbed a bowl of cereal. Jacob was his son, but he treated Tony just as well, and Lillian also admired that about the man. Everything about him made her heart lift and stomach flutter, and she wanted to get married, but they didn't have the money. She dreamed that one day they could marry, so she worked extra hard, even though it didn't help her salary raise much.
She was a third grade teacher, and she loved it. The children were full of energy and they listened to her. They did their work and turned it in on time, and when she needed help with something, they were always happy to volunteer. She knew that it was possible for Tony to get embarrassed if she had him as a student, but she would give him room when the day started, unless he didn't want any. The chances of that were slim though, and she didn't mind it one bit. Michael reached over and touched her hand lightly, causing her to jump.
"Are you okay?" He asked. "You're losing yourself again, Lilly."
She smiled at him and waved her hand dismissively. "Don't worry about me, Mike," she said, looking at the clock. "You have to go to work soon."
He nodded and she went back to feeding Jacob. They called each other Mike and Lilly for short. It became a habit when she was pregnant. After a couple of minutes filled with silent eating, Mike stood up and dropped his bowl in the sink. He said his goodbyes as he grabbed his jacket and headed out the door. As soon as he left, Tony finished his breakfast and did the same. He grabbed his book bag and sat on the couch, watching cartoons until she was ready to go.
She finished feeding Jacob and cleaned up the kitchen quickly, glancing at the clock. She rushed the kids out the door and locked it behind them, and then they were off. She went to the day care and dropped Jacob off first, waving at her friend, Taylor, and then she drove to the elementary school. She let Tony run off to class with his friends and she went to her class, writing on the whiteboard as the children filed into the room.
After school, she waited for Tony in her car. He ran out with a big smile and climbed in, slapping a sloppy kiss on her cheek. She laughed and drove to the day care. Jacob came out with one of the teachers, crying. The teacher had a look of sorrow on her face and there were police nearby questioning the other teachers.
"What happened?" Lillian asked, looking at her son with a worried expression.
"Taylor died this afternoon." the teacher replied, her voice breaking. "She saved a little girl from being hit by a bus."
Lillian was struck. She didn't know what to say or how to react. She blinked back tears. "She always loved children. She'd do anything for them."
The teacher shook her head. "Are you going to the funeral?"
"Of course," Lillian said. "Taylor and I were always close. She was a good friend."
Jacob climbed in the car, still crying. Tony comforted his brother while he strapped him in the car seat. The teacher waved goodbye, being called over by a police man to be questioned. Lillian sniffed and drove back home, trying to keep herself from crying in front of the boys. Tony leaned forward, as far as his seat belt would let him go, and rested his hand on her shoulder comfortingly. She smiled, her vision a little blurred. He was such a smart boy, and she would take her own life for his any day, just like Taylor had done for that little girl.
She got home and made the boys dinner. Mike got home just as she was serving it. She greeted him with a small kiss and they ate dinner together, talking and laughing as if nothing had happened. After she had sent the boys to bed later that night, she and Mike talked in their bedroom about what happened to Taylor. Mike would take a day off work to go to her funeral with Lillian, which made her feel better. She would take the boys too, she decided. They loved Taylor just as much as she did. They called her Aunt Tay-Tay. She smiled, remembering when Tony and Jacob were both born; Taylor had been there for her. She cried a little with Mike there to comfort her, and she fell asleep in his arms.
A couple of months had passed and everyone was recovering from Taylor's death. Everyone remembered her as a life saver. She would have made a great mother, and she was known as a selfless woman who took her own life for a child's. She used to talk about that little girl often, claiming that she could be her daughter. At the funeral, Lillian had seen the little girl, and they did look a lot alike. Taylor had blonde hair and blue eyes, rosy cheeks and thin lips with a fragile body. The little girl looked like she could have been her childhood twin. Maybe she would grow up to be like Taylor, with a better fate. Lillian hoped so.
Next month, Tony would be eight years old. She planned to throw him a small surprise party at the apartment, and then they would go out for dinner to celebrate as a family. She fed Jacob as usual and jumped in the shower afterwards. It was Saturday, so she could relax a little and grade some paper work while the boys played. Mike was still at work today. The only thing he ever talked about for the last two months was getting a promotion. His boss likes him and if he works hard enough, he's sure to get one. He told her that every day, as soon as he was home from work, looking tired, but excited. He wanted to start saving up for the boys to go to college.
She scrubbed her body down and started washing her hair. As she pulled her hands through her thick, long hair, she felt a clump. She ran her hands through her hair a little more and looked at them in shock. She was losing quarter-size clumps of hair! She panicked some and ran her hands through her hair some more, pulling out more hair easily. She didn't even have to tug. She quickly rinsed off and got out of the shower, turning to the mirror and wiping away the droplets of water that were forming on its surface. Her hair looked oddly thin for her, and she sobbed. Her father had spent hours brushing through her hair before, and now she wouldn't have any left. She wouldn't be able to wear her butterfly clip anymore. She slid down the wall behind her and sat on the floor, crying and pulling out more hair until Mike came in and saw her. He pulled her up gently and comforted her, telling her that everything would be okay. She knew he was lying; nothing would ever be okay again from this moment on.
The next day she decided not to wear the butterfly clip. It wouldn't be the same with her thin, dull hair. She looked at the mirror with disgust. Her skin was paling and her eyes didn't have their usual glow. She slumped off to the kitchen to feed the boys, feeling Tony's eyes on her the whole time. She smiled to herself, still thinking about how her son was so bright. He understood that she was hurting and he wanted to help her, but he probably felt helpless, not knowing what to do. He stayed by her side when they got to school, ignoring his friends and the teasing from the other children. He held her hand and went to her class with her. He decided that he wanted to help her grade papers today instead of going to his own class.
Lillian sent his teacher a message using the computer, telling her that he was sick today and would be staying with her. He was happy that she let him help out, and she was happy to have him there to comfort her. The other kids whispered and snickered some, but he ignored them. She called their attention to the board and began going over the paper. Or she was trying to. She stammered and hung onto words for a long time, not really understanding what she was saying. Her students asked her questions that she didn't understand, and they looked confused. Tony looked worried and told her to sit down and explained to the students that she wasn't feeling well today.
One of them asked if they could go somewhere and she looked at Tony. He nodded and pointed to a slip sitting on her desk, telling her to sign it. She wrote her name and let the kid go. He came back a few minutes later with the nurse and principal. The nurse examined her and noticed her thinning hair. She talked with the principal for some time and the next thing Lillian knew was she got fired. They told her that she would no longer be able to work because of her cancer. Cancer? She had cancer? She tried to make sense of it, but failed.
They had Mike pick her up and take her to the hospital, telling Tony to go back to his class. He did what he was told, even though it was clear that he didn't want to leave his mother. The doctor had told them that she had cancer, and it was affecting her thinking process. She only got a small gist of it and was tired of trying to understand anything more that he was saying, so she just cut him out, observing the pictures hanging on his wall. Mike looked defeated and was struggling not to cry, holding his hand over his forehead as if he had a headache. Lillian reached over and rested her hand on his shoulder, hoping that it would somehow reassure him. It didn't.
Later that evening she looked through her old photo albums. She didn't have any pictures of the boys yet, but there were plenty pictures of her father. She ran her hand through her hair as she flipped through the pages, admiring his smile and the butterfly clip that she wore in her hair every day. She looked at her hand, finding more strands of hair, and dropped them into the waste basket beside her. She sighed as Jacob started crying, but ignored him. After a few moments, Tony came out of his room and took care of his brother. This is how it would be for the next couple of years.
Now that Tony was old enough to get a job, he was out every day, leaving Lillian with the other child. She thought his name was Jacob? She wasn't really sure. He looked almost alien to her, and she questioned Tony and Mike why he was always here. Mike told her that Jacob was his son and she never understood. They argued about it a lot, and they would catch Jacob hiding nearby to listen to them. Mike would send him off to bed and leave for the night, ignoring Lillian's screaming for him to come back. She wasn't done fighting. She never was.
At 15 years old, Tony was working with one of his friends at his father's store. They treated him as if he were family and sometimes came over to settle disputes between Tony's parents. He liked working at the store, though he wished that he could take Jacob with him. When he came home, he would find Jacob in his room, drawing or staring off into space. Sometimes he might even be crying. Jacob broke down and told Tony that his grades were bad because he couldn't read or do math. He had dyslexia and no one was there to help him besides his brother. Tony never understood how his mother could remember him, but forget about Jacob. Maybe it was because Jacob was so young when his mother found out that she had cancer. Mike was planning to leave Lillian, he already knew, because he could hear him talking to Jacob softly, telling him to take good care of his mother and that he would visit us when he could.
Tony walked home from work this afternoon to find his mother sitting in her chair, turning through the pages of her old albums, and running her hand through her hair, absently pulling out more of it and dropping it in the basket next to her. He shook his head and sighed, wishing they could go back to the old days when she would wake up early and make breakfast for everyone. She barely noticed when he and Jacob left for school or when they came home. She rarely spoke to them, though he often noticed her smiling at him in admiration. He sat on the floor beside the chair and watched her, doing his homework and helping out Jacob. She ignored them for the most part until Mike came home. For some reason she loved to argue with him. Tony led Jacob outside and they played basketball together until Mike left again.
It was only a couple of years later, when Tony was 20 years old, that they got a call from Mike's boss. He told them that Mike had died of a heart attack at work and it was too late to help him. Jacob took it the hardest. He didn't go to school for weeks and locked himself in their room. Tony had to sleep on the couch in the living room. He didn't want to bother his brother when he was struggling enough already. Lillian seemed to be unaffected by it and acted the same way every day still, looking through her old albums. Jacob still struggled through school because of his dyslexia and now he was suffering from severe depression. Tony would help him do his homework and the teachers at school would read aloud to him, even though the other students often teased him. Tony knew they'd be living like this for a long time, until Lillian died and Jacob was able to live on his own. He wished his brother luck every day that he would have a better life when he left. It was only a matter of time until he would get to see his brother move out and get married, raising a good family. He would be lucky to escape this misfortune that troubled their family.