Anthony didn't come back that night.
Or the next.
Or the next night after that.
Then, one blustery Saturday morning, there was a knock on the door. The officer didn't waste words, his tone was curt and emotionless as he told the small family that their husband and father wasn't coming home.
There was no grief. No remorse of any kind.
And certainly no tears.
Anthony had been nothing but a terror and a burden to Sophia and her boys and he wouldn't be missed. They wouldn't even hold a funeral. He would disappear forever, and that was fine with them.
But misfortune is never satisfied.
Two days later, Sophia lost her job. Again.
Louis volunteered to work to help bear some of the load, but Sophia refused to let him. He was too young, she said, and shouldn't be working like a man.
He argued that, at eleven years old, he was close enough to a man, and as the oldest male in the house, he should be allowed to work.
But he got his stubbornness from his mother and she threatened to lock him in his room if he said anything about it again. Still, that didn't keep Louis from sneaking out when his mother's back was turned to find odd jobs that people would give him a few dollars for. Of course, nothing got past Sophia and she soon found out about his little escapades. But she didn't stop him because inside, she was really proud of her boy.
It wasn't easy finding work. Apparently, Sophia and the boys were not the only people Anthony had hurt in his lifetime. His name was well known around that area of town, and hardly anyone wanted anything to do with anyone associate with him in any way. There was only one place willing to take her:
Out of pure desperation, she took the job and became a barmaid, with everything that entailed. She hated it more than anything, but it was money, and money was food and clothing she and her children so desperately needed.
By this time, Nico had passed his tenth birthday. Feeling much older and stronger now that he was in 'double-digits', he began joining Louis in his hunt for small jobs. Of course, it didn't bring in much, but Sophia couldn't be prouder of her hardworking boys, and they were all too eager to please her, to give the life she deserved, or so they said.
But as time wore on, Sophia's job began to take its tole. She began returning home later and later each night. Sometimes she would leave in the afternoon and not return until the evening of the next day, too drunk to take care of the boys. And the next morning she'd be so hungover that she couldn't get out of bed. When she sobered, she would cry for hours, apologizing to Louis and Nico over and over, promising them that she'd never do it again and that she would quit her job and find a new one. But the very next day, she went out again.
And so it was, night after night, week after week, month after month, and so on.
"We have to do something for mamma," Louis whispered to Nico as they lay in their beds one night. "We can't keep going like this. I hate it, you hate it, and we both know she hates it."
Nico nodded. He didn't understand a lot at his young age, but he knew more than most. "What can we do?"
Louis sighed, "I don't know. There must be something. All I know is we can't live like this anymore. She's starting to drink more and more, and I'm afraid..." he paused, his voice cracking with emotion, "I'm afraid she'll become like Anthony."
Nico sat up straight. "No, Louis! You can't say that! Mamma is kind, and she loves us. She's not at all like Anthony was."
"At the beginning, Anthony was kind, too."
Nico laid back down again and was quiet. He knew Louis was right. But surely mother wouldn't– couldn't become like him.
"Louis, I need to speak to you," Sophia said, patting the seat beside her. It was about a week since Louis and Nico had had their conversation in the bedroom. Louis was still trying to find a way to make life easier for them, but he had no idea how.
"Yes, mamma?" He said, sitting next to her on their makeshift couch. It was really nothing more than a few boxes with old pillows that Nico and Louis had found in the dumpster thrown on it.
Sophia took his hand in hers and squeezed it. This was one of the few times she wasn't drunk or hungover, and actually seemed a bit like her old self. "What do you think of having a new dad?" She said, her face beaming.
But Louis frowned. It had only been a little more than a year since Anthony had died. This was the last thing he expected, especially this soon. "Why do we need that? We haven't had very good experiences with dads in the past."
Sophia actually laughed. It had been a long time since Louis had seen her even smile. "I met someone at work."
Louis had already decided that he wouldn't like what his mother was about to tell him, but that only confirmed his thoughts.
"We've actually been friends for several weeks, but I didn't mention him because... well, after everything that happened with Anthony, I wasn't ready to give my heart to anyone else any time soon. But he isn't like the other men at the bar who try to take advantage of me." Louis cringed at that. Just the thought of what his mother had to do every night made him sick to his stomach. "He treats me well, and he doesn't drink that much," she continued. "He makes me... happy. I haven't felt truly happy in so long."
Louis bit his lip, feeling conflicted. Seeing his mom happy was all he wanted. But he didn't feel as sure about this man as she did. But perhaps Anthony had made him too wary about other men and this guy really was all his mother said. He had to admit, it would be nice to have a good father-figure in the home.
"If this guy becomes our father," the words sounded odd coming out of his mouth, "will you still have to work at the bar?"
"No," Sophia replied eagerly, "he said that he already has a good job and I wouldn't have to work there any longer!"
That was what Louis wanted. But still... "How does he feel about me and Nico?"
"He says he likes kids, and he's sure he'll be good friends with you in no time. So... what do you think?"
Louis still wasn't sure. But in reality, he didn't have much of a say in it. His mother could do what she wanted. She was his mother, after all. He forced a smile and squeezed her hand. "I think... I think it might be nice to have a good dad again."
Sophia hugged him tight, saying that she was sure he would be, and they would have a much better life from then on.
Louis, on the other hand, wondered if he'd just let his mother make the biggest mistake of her life.