10:58

How could this happen? I heard about it in other towns and my heart went out to those parents, but how could it happen here, in Lionel. I swore I'd always protect her, she was my baby girl, my one and only. I had one job in this world, and it was to make sure that beautiful child was protected, and I couldn't even do that. What kind of horrible, awful mother am I?

"Mom, when is Eleanor coming home from school? I've got a few Pokémon cards I want to give to her!"

"Oh, Nolan, honey. Come here, baby. There's something I need to tell you."

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1. 7:45

"Mommy! I'm ready for school!"

"Great, baby. Give mommy just a minute, okay?"

Nolan got a seventy-nine percent on his quiz, which is a C almost a B. That should bring his grade up enough to practice today. I swear if that boy misses another practice, Rick is going to kick him right off the team. He doesn't mess around when it comes to grades.

"Nolan! Come down here, please!"

I glance around what you could call a kitchen and feel a dull throb begin in my head. This is such an awful mess. Crumbs from the toast Eleanor made earlier decorate the counters, along with the sticky spots of strawberry jelly. Dirty dishes pile up in the sink send off a mild odor of Mac&Cheese, hamburger helper,and chicken nuggets. I don't dare open the microwave and drop my gaze to the dusty, linoleum floor, which is also decorated with crumbs and jelly. I really need time to clean this.

"Mommy, look!"

"Yes, El. Hold on one minute, love."

"No, mommy! Look now!" she persists.

"Eleanor, honey. Mommys got to finish grading these papers. Please baby, just one minute. Nolan James Harris! Come down here!"

Jamie got that wrong. Right, right, right, wrong. I quickly scribble the fat red X's across one and five, marking her final grade on top. On to the next, Mark. Right, right, wro-

"Mommy, look!" "What, Eleanor!? What do I need to see!?" I snap at my four year old, instantly wanting to take back my harsh tone.

The words hang in the air as time seems to be suspended. They ricochets off her tender ears and back on to my bitter lips. Her chocolate eyes go wide, then water up, her bottom lip quivering. Damn, it! You need to get it together, Lauren! Fix yourself up, and put on a good show for your kids. Make them think you're alright. Forget about Daniel, and apologize to Eleanor.

I slide out of the chair and squat, holding out my arm. "Come here, honey."

Reluctantly she closes the gap in between us, her massive winter coat taking up half the space. I gently lift her chin up and lock eyes with hers.

"Mommy didn't mean to yell at you. She's had a lot to do with all her papers and Nolan's sports. Sometimes mommy isn't as patient as she should be and I'm sorry, baby."

Her slender, tanned arms snake around my neck and she buries her face in my shoulder. She should have her daddy here to help take care of her in the morning. Her daddy should be here to help her with her ABC's and simple counting. Her daddy should be here to put her to bed and read her 'Good Night Moon' every night, not be out partying with barley legal bimbos, hooking up with a different low class whore everynight.

"Now, what did you want to show me?"

She tentatively pulls a piece of paper out from behind her back, holding it close to her torso.

"Aw, El! Let me see it!"

"I made it for daddy, mommy" she whispers.

A blow to the gut, hearing my baby girl talk about her absent father. How could you do that? How could you just completley leave your two children and the woman you claimed you love? The wind rushes out of me as if I'm being slowly suffacated by enclosing walls.

With shaking hands, I unfold the yellow paper. In the hardly legiable, four year old writing, it has 'i luv u dade'. Another blow to the gut, this one more powerful. The air around seems to get thinner, harder to take in. Inhale after inhale, yet not getting a breath.

"That's wonderful, honey."

She snatches it back out of my hands and folds it up, steel in her eyes.

"I'm going to mail it to daddy at his work."

"He's not at work, Eleanor. He left us. He's not coming back."

The thick, hard voice makes me jump out of my crouched position and turn toward it. Nolan stands in the doorway, leaning up against the frame. His thick brows are raised and he stares right at me, as if to challange me. Beg me to go against him, so he can shoot me down, yet again.

"Nolan, please. Not right now" I beg him.

Eleanor will be ceompletley heartbroken if she finds out what Daniel did to us. He was her hero. 'I want to grow up and be just like daddy!' she'd tell me everyday. Everything he would do, she would try her hardest to copy, it didn't matter what it was. All she knew is she wanted to do it because daddy did it.

"Daddy's gone? Mommy?!" Eleanor wails, running toward me as fast as her little legs can take her, jumping up on my hip.

"Damn it, Nolan! No, no! Shh, it's okay, baby. Daddy will be back soon. I promise."

Nolan gives a sarcastic laugh, causing us both to turn toward him. His sandy brown hair falls in messy curls across his forehead, hazel eyes still tired, yet fully aware of what he's doing. I don't understand why he has to make things to difficult for me. I try my hardest with out his father. I hardly make enough money to feed and clothe us all on a teachers salary, but I really do try. It seems what ever I do isn't quite good enough for him.

"Nolan, please go get ready for school" I tell him, defeated.

With heavy sigh, he stomps down the hallway and up the stairs, making sure to slam the door. I don't know what to do with that boy anymore. I've tried everything from trying to relate to him, being strict, being leaniate, even got to the point where I just let him do what ever he pleased. Nothing I did was right. He still acts out and tries his hardest to make life harder for me.

"Mommy. When is daddy going to be home?"

Oh the dreaded question I hear at least once a week. Everytime she asks, I tell her the same thing.

"Not for a little while, baby. He has a lot of work to do."

"He's close to being all done though. Nolan told me."

Her deep, innocent eyes fill with confusion and determination. She can't wrap her young, untainted mind around the fact that her father is gone. That's why I don't tell her, I keep up the lie about Daniel being gone at work.

"Don't listen to anything your brother tells you. He likes to yank your chain, baby."

She nods, mind preoccupied and trots off toward the living room. Spongebob's laugh fills the house. I don't know how much longer I can lie to her like this. I need help raising these kids. I was only eight-teen when I had Nolan, I was still a kid! I can't keep them happy anymore. I can't spoil them or give them everything they want, like I should be able to. It breaks my heart having to tell Eleanor no when she wants a new doll, or Nolan no when he wants a new CD. Simply because I can't afford it. It's either the doll and the CD, or dinner that night. They don't understand.

I hang my head in my hands, the dull throb now takes over every part of my head. Sinking into the chair, I pull out the red pen and focus my mind to grading last weeks quizzes. Teaching and going over papers is the only time when I don't worry, when I feel like I'm doing exactly what I was born to do.

"Mom. It's almost eight. We have to go" Nolan commands, racing down the stairs in jeans and an Under Armour hoodie, hair still a mess. Nothing new.

"Nolan, would it kill you to brush your hair every once in a while?"

A cocky smile spreads across his face as he shoves his feet in his shoes, black socks slipping off. It would be a lot easier to put on shoes if he untied them, I observe.

"Aw, come on Mom! The babes love the messy look!"

With nothing more but a wink, he lunges out of the house, leaving me to grab El, my papers and go. Where is that girl? Probably still watching Spongebob. What time is it? 7:45? Aready?! Crap! School starts in five minuets for both my kids, and it takes at least ten to get there. 

"Eleanor! Go wait out in the car with Nolan!" I shout to her, patience wearing thin. Do I have all my papers? One, two, three, four...seven...twelve...ninteen...twenty-six! Got them all, grab my bag, lock the door, and we're off.

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