Eye on the Prize

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Marco had no clue what it looked like to live a life of luxury. He grew up in a single-wide twelve foot by sixty-foot aluminum rusty trailer on concrete blocks in a small town not worth mentioning. He lived in an area where most people drove through without stopping. Certainly, no one would voluntarily choose to live in this godforsaken place, let alone visit. The trailer park was unappealing, and the trailers should have been deemed uninhabitable. The playground consisted of corroded and broken swings and a roundabout that screeched as it spun, making blood curdle. The homes were old and unkempt and in desperate need of repair. Aluminum siding was falling off, doors barely closed, and people parked their cars on the lawns. No amount of landscaping could cover up the eyesore that he called home. It was one step above homelessness.

Marco never met his dad since he split the minute after he found out that his mother was pregnant. She adamantly refused to get an abortion, and he wasn’t ready to be a father. He wanted nothing more than a girlfriend to have sex with and made it very clear that kids were not a part of his future. Not today or ever. True to his word, Marco’s dad never attempted to acknowledge or get to know his son. It was as if he never existed. His mother gave up hope of any future with a man who refused to accept or acknowledge her son. She thought that he would have a change of heart once Marco was born. Who could deny the preciousness of an innocent baby?

Unfortunately, she was wrong again because Marco’s sperm donor of a father could care less about the life he helped create and left town without ever looking back. Things happen for a reason, and it was for the best since a selfish and uncaring man would never make a good father.

Eventually, Marco’s mom accepted that she needed to move on and stay clear of losers. There wasn’t a lot of spare time since she raised a child alone, so she needed to wait to even think about

dating. Luckily, she met Marco’s stepfather at the grocery store, and they hit it off right away. He would have dinner with her and Marco, and they became a little family. Six months later, Marco’s mom remarried and found more joy than she had in a long time. It was easy to marry such a good man, especially since it didn’t faze him to raise another man’s child. The three of them were a happy family who enjoyed each other’s company. For once, life was memorable and meaningful. Two years later, the couple decided to expand their family. They welcomed a bouncing baby girl before Marco’s fourth birthday. She was a month premature when she was born and caught a respiratory virus while in the hospital. Initially, the doctors expected her to stay a week or two until she reached a healthy weight. Since she needed medicine and nebulizer treatments many times a day, her stay was prolonged. Nadia came home six weeks after she was born. Baby Nadia’s round the clock care came at a high price.

The hospital bills were out of control and more than the family could handle. Marco’s stepdad was a truck driver with no health insurance. His mom decided to get a job as a waitress on the night shift to help with the bills since they were piling up. His stepdad was picking up extra shifts, and his mom was working every night. Due to the lack of sleep and money, tensions rose, and their fights escalated. They paid what they could every month toward all of their debt, but it was never enough. The hospital repeatedly threatened to sue, and the pressure was too much to handle. The couple took it out on each other with screaming matches. He never laid a hand on her, but there was resentment on both sides due to the hopeless situation. The honeymoon phase was gone forever, and the tiny trailer seemed to get smaller every day as the fights grew bigger. The walls finally closed in, and the marriage crumbled and was beyond saving due to the tremendous stress. It wasn’t healthy for the kids to live in a toxic environment, so they mutually decided it would be best to end the marriage and worked out an amicable agreement.

Marco was content, knowing that his little sister had a father who cared about and loved her. She spent every weekend with him.

Marco visited occasionally but chose to stay behind with his mother to help out around the house. When Nadia was away, Marco appreciated the one-on-one time spent with his mother. During the week, she worked most nights, and his stepfather drove a rig, leaving Marco in charge of caring for his little sister. He never complained about his responsibilities and became the man of the house. Instead of going to parties, sports events, and hanging out with friends, he became the caretaker making dinner, doing laundry, checking homework, and getting his sister to bed on time. It’s not like he had an absent parent who partied and dated. His mother worked harder than most people and did what was necessary to survive.

Marco’s mother never remarried or brought men back to the trailer. Her kids were her life, and she put that responsibility above anything else. She wouldn’t know what to do without Marco and felt bad for burdening him and forcing him to grow up quicker than usual. He pitched in with minimal complaining and helped her tremendously. It was unbelievable how fast the years flew by. Marco was twelve years old, and Nadia was eight. She would love the opportunity to stay home with her kids, but the option wasn’t available if she chose to support her family. Some days were more challenging than others.

She was a strong woman, but sometimes it was necessary to give in to crying in the shower where no one else could see her crumble and feel sorry for herself. Life seemed unfair at times and was far from easy.

On a rare Friday night off from work, Marco was lounging on the couch comfortably watching television with his mother. She smiled lovingly and was proud of her son.

“Marco, you know that I think it is sweet of you to spend time with me, but I am going to have to put my foot down and insist that you get out of this house tonight. You are almost a teenager and should be having fun with your friends instead of worrying about your mama and being stuck in this claustrophobic shoe box. Tonight, is the most important night for your football team and this town. You cannot miss the game of the season. I will not allow it.”

“Why don’t you come with me, mom? It will be a lot of fun.” “I would love to go, but I am exhausted. It has been an

excruciatingly long week on my feet at work. I plan on going to bed

as soon as you leave. You better get going so that you get there before kickoff.”

“Are you sure, mom? You won’t be mad?”

“Not one bit. Go and have some fun for a change and stop worrying about me. You deserve a night out. I will see you as soon as you get back home. Wake me up so that you can tell me all of the details.”

Free time for Marco was almost non-existent, so he didn’t need to be told twice. It would be great to see some of his friends.

“Thanks, mom. I love you.”

As he was about to run out, he stopped and turned around to give his mom a big hug. He may be twelve but secretly liked a hug now and then. Before his mother could change her mind about letting him go out for the night, he ran out of the house and pedaled his bike into town as fast as his legs would take him until he arrived at the football field. It was a beautiful fall Friday night in early October and perfect weather for a football game. His bike tires crunched the leaves on the ground as he traveled. The sun was setting as it peeked behind the trees, making the leaves on the maple trees appear a fiery orange, yellow, and red. Marco admired the view as the vivid colors looked like an artist’s canvas. It was very picturesque. The crisp cold air was sneaking in and would not affect the crowd in the stands since they were sitting close to one another.

Marco hurried to the student section of the bleachers as the game was about to begin. His home team was preparing to play their rivals. There was no love lost on either side, and each group was playing for bragging rights. The game was a nail biter, with the score bouncing back and forth. Fans added to the already competitive environment, and emotions were running high. The score was too close for comfort, and time was not on their side. With less than a minute left, the rival team had the ball and were marching down the field with a purpose. After the next play, they were within scoring range. Twenty seconds remained on the clock! The game and the entire season were on the line. A hush fell over the crowd as the quarterback stepped back to throw a touchdown pass. Everyone was anxiously

holding their breath as the ball seemed to move in slow motion. A defender crashed through the line on the left side to strip-sack the quarterback while unmercifully tackling him to the ground. Another defender picked up the loose ball to run it in for a touchdown with three seconds left.

The home team fans celebrated and went crazy with excitement.

The loud cheers filled the air like electricity. Marco witnessed the most spectacular game that fans would talk about for years to come. He was sitting next to the coolest girl in the school. KC was his middle school crush, and he spent hours daydreaming about her. He was too shy to do anything about it, though. They were so caught up in the moment that Marco high-fived KC, and she went in for a quick kiss on the lips. Time suddenly stood still as if they were the only two people in the stands. What just happened? Her kiss caught him completely off guard, and there was not enough time to react. She ran off to be with her friends immediately after kissing him. Wow, could this night possibly get any better? His mom was spot-on about him needing a night out of that tiny trailer. It felt great, and he was so pleased to witness the game of the year.

Marco hung out to talk to some of his friends before going home. It was the perfect night, so why not make it last a little longer? The parking lot emptied, and only a handful of people were left, which meant it was time to go. He pedaled his bike home with more excitement than the ride to the game. Marco was counting down the minutes so that he could thank his mother for suggesting that he go out tonight. It just so happened to be the best suggestion ever. She would want all of the details about the big team win and his first unexpected kiss with KC. He thought he smelled a bonfire on the way home, which was perfect for a nice fall evening, but it seemed to get stronger the further he pedaled. The smell of smoke lingered heavily in the air. All of a sudden, fire trucks were speeding past him with their sirens blaring. They were driving so fast that Marco could feel the wind from the passing trucks. There must be a massive fire, and it was somewhere close.

Five minutes later, Marco turned onto his street. He saw the fire trucks parked outside of his trailer to his dismay, and there was a great deal of commotion. His heart began to beat erratically and felt like it was going to jump right out of his chest. The intensity of the situation hit him hard. He threw his bike aside and ran the rest of the way to the trailer. Angry flames were destroying the trailer and anything in its path, and thick black smoke hung in the air like dense clouds. The fire was angrily roaring out of control and was not about to stop until it destroyed everything. Marco anxiously scanned the crowd but did not see his mother. He was frightened since it could only mean that she was still inside. Dread filled him as he fought his way through the caution tape only to have the fire chief block his path.

“Son, I am afraid that I have to ask you to step back and let the firefighters do their job. You cannot go into the house! It could collapse at any minute.”

“Let me go. I live in this house, and my mother is inside. I need to help her get out safely. I don’t see her outside, so I know she is trapped inside.” He screamed, “Please go and help her! Do something!”

He usually found flames to be mesmerizing because it looked like they were dancing. Not in this case. This scorching fire was full of rage and hunger and true to the chief’s word; it did not take long at all for the trailer to collapse. Marco was screaming and crying hysterically for his mother. This absolute nightmare could not be happening to him! Unfortunately, the safe words the family used were not going to extinguish the fire and keep his mother out of harm’s way. The safe words for Nadia and Marco were “Harley Quinn.” If they used these words when talking to their mother, she would know that they were in distress. Harley Quinn was Nadia’s favorite character in the Batman cartoons. Both children loved watching Batman and idolized him. Marco stood there, utterly helpless while

watching the fire incinerate the only home that he ever knew with all of his family’s belongings. Anyone who could hear Marco’s cries and pleas for help felt utterly heartbroken and helpless.

“Mama! Where are you? Please come out. Please! I need you!”

One firefighter burst through the trailer door as the trailer was collapsing. The fire chief called off the rescue thirty seconds earlier since he was concerned for his men’s safety and did not intend to lose more lives or take a chance of injuries when the trailer collapsed. A fireman emerged carrying his mother over his shoulder, and her body was limp in his arms. He made direct eye contact with his chief and shook his head sadly.

Marco witnessed the exchange between the two men. He wailed at the top of his lungs, “NOOOOO!”

His mama was gone forever. Hours ago, she was alive and well.

Now she was placed gently on a gurney, and the paramedic checked for a pulse, hopelessly knowing that he would not find one. They tried a defibrillator after performing CPR. Nothing was able to bring her back to life. His mom was sleeping in her bedroom when the firefighters found her. As a result of the swelling from the intense heat of the fire, the door was stuck. The flames took over, but the smoke did most of the damage before anyone could get to her. The fire destroyed Marco’s entire world. He needed to say goodbye to her before they took her away from him forever.

He slowly walked over to his mama with dread lying heavy in his heart. Silence fell over the crowd that had gathered to pray for everyone’s safety. It was silent as they were speechless and overcome with grief when they saw Marco’s mom’s lifeless body.

Marco was crying, and his words came out between sobs as tears poured down his face unashamed. The crowd shed tears with him as they listened in on a private moment.

“Mama, please don’t leave me. I am not old enough to take care of myself. Open your eyes. I am begging you. If you do, I promise I will behave and never give you trouble again. I love you so much. You are a good mother who works hard and never complains. I rushed home to tell you what a great night I had at the football game. The game was thrilling, and our team won with a few seconds left. If that wasn’t exciting enough, I kissed a girl for the first time. Mama, please forgive me for going out tonight. I should have stayed home with you. If I came back after the game was over, maybe you would be able to answer me right now. Maybe I could have done something to save you. I am so sorry. Can you open your eyes for me? You can’t die on me! Who is going to give me advice and take care of me? It’s not fair! I promise to do whatever you want if you come back to me. Anything you say, just name it. Please don’t die. Mama?”

The fire chief did his best to keep his composure as he walked over to Marco. He did his best to console the heartbroken boy by wrapping him in his arms. There were tears in his eyes, and the crowd felt helpless to help the poor boy. The chief looked into Marco’s eyes.

“Son, I know this is the hardest day of your life. I am so sorry about your mama. I would do anything to be able to bring her back to you. She is a good woman and is going to live with God now in heaven. He will take care of her for you.”

Marco turned into the arms of the fire chief and cried his heart out like an inconsolable baby. He sobbed in the chief’s arms until there were no tears left. The child was physically exhausted. The chief was very patient and let Marco take as much time as he needed. When it seemed like the boy was calm enough, the man asked if he could call someone to pick Marco up. The boy gave him the name and number of his grandmother. She lived an hour away. The fire chief insisted on staying with Marco until his grandmother arrived. It was the least he could do.

Tragedies like this were a brutal reminder to the chief that he did not possess the power to save everyone. His job was far from glamorous. The image of that boy’s dead mother would stay with him for a long time. It was great to save people and to be a hero. Death, on the other hand, was devastating for him and his men. A fireman didn’t keep count of the people he saved to massage his ego. The number he kept track of were the lives he lost. The guilt and sadness stayed with firemen like a bad nightmare. They would most likely need grief counseling to help move past tonight. He felt broken- hearted for the boy standing next to him, whose life changed in the blink of an eye. Life wasn’t fair, especially when you had to say goodbye to your mother before you were supposed to and then have to figure out how to move on without ever seeing her again. A lone tear escaped his eye.

In the days that followed his mother’s catastrophic death, Marco’s grandmother did her best to console her grandson while making plans for the funeral. He found the waiting to be tortuous and simply wanted the nightmare to end already. He was waiting to bury his mother and say his final goodbye, which only prolonged his grief. His life was in limbo until his mother reached her final resting place. The whole funeral process was morbid to him. He found it very hard to handle his mother’s death and looked forward to being reunited with his little sister. Together they would get through this disaster.

Unfortunately, Marco never had the chance to see Nadia since his stepfather refused to bring her to the funeral. He felt that she was too young to be exposed to a viewing or a funeral and decided to keep her home. In his opinion, it was difficult enough for her to lose her mother without having to see her laid out in a casket looking like a wax museum figure. Marco ran out of the room in disbelief as his grandmother shot his stepfather a look of disgust. To make matters worse, he informed Marco’s grandmother that Nadia would be living with him permanently. When she inquired how long it would be until Marco and Nadia would finally see each other, he would not commit but promised to try his best to arrange a time for them to visit in the future, after life went back to normal.

Marco had no idea that the day of the fire would be the last time he saw Nadia. He flashed back to their last day together. Nadia had a bad day at school. One of the little boys in her class tried to steal her lunch money. She was so mad at the boy that she slugged him with her metal lunch box. The boy immediately apologized and returned the money as he ran away. The principal was not amused and called Nadia’s mother for a mandatory meeting in his office. Nadia insisted that she did nothing wrong and that the boy received the punishment he deserved. It was self-defense. The principal was trying to reinforce that violence would not be tolerated for any reason. Nadia and her mother went home after the meeting was over. Marco’s sister ran to him for protection, thinking that she was in big trouble, but her mother told Nadia that the boy received what he deserved for stealing. She

was more upset by the fact that the boy gained no punishment for his part.

Marco rewarded Nadia with a high five and told her never, under any circumstances, let anyone get away with stealing, no matter who it was. Nadia used her lunch money to buy Marco a little soft toy football they were selling in the school cafeteria. She knew how much he loved football and skipped her snack to buy him the toy. Nadia was so happy to give her brother a gift. Marco knelt next to his sister and hugged her to show his appreciation. He put the football into his hoodie pocket.

Marco wanted to give Nadia a gift too. He told her that he had a present for her, and she started to clap her hands in anticipation.

Even though he could not afford to buy a gift, he gave her one of his most prized possessions. It was a white shell necklace with blue and black coco beads. He loved it because it looked like the necklaces that surfers wore and reminded him of the beach. He had never been to a beach but thought it looked like a beautiful place to spend time. Nadia was so thrilled with her gift. She threw her arms around her brother and kissed him.

“Eww, gross. Okay, enough with the kisses. A hug is fine.” Nadia answered him with laughter.

Marco missed Nadia so much already. They were very close, even with their four-year age difference. It was his job to take care of her when their mother was working, and now she would be living somewhere else. He wondered if she thought about him too. She used to love playing sumo wrestlers with him. They would take pillows and stuff them under their shirt and bounce off of each other. Nadia would laugh so uncontrollably that she couldn’t breathe. He would always remember the fun times they shared and how she still found a way to make him laugh. Tears ran down Marco’s face.

Everyone he loved and cared about was gone, and he felt as if God was punishing him for some unknown reason.

His grandmother’s heart was breaking over the loss of her daughter. A mother should never have to bury her child. To make matters worse, she witnessed the agony her daughter’s death caused her grandson. She was holding his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Marco, honey, I would do anything to take your pain away. It hurts me to see you suffer. I would move heaven and earth to bring your mother back to you.”

“Mom-mom, I am so furious that God took my mother away from me. I go to bed every night, hoping that it is all a bad dream. Then I wake up, and she is still gone. Why did this happen to her? I hate God! She should have told him that she needed to come back to take care of me.”

“Marco, it is absolutely fine to be angry with God, and it is your right. You should pray to him at night and talk to him. He is there to listen, and he loves you. I have no idea why this happened. I can only promise that I am here to take care of you. I cannot believe she is gone either. We will find a way to get through this nightmare together.”

“Mom-mom, thank you for taking care of me. I wish my mom would come back. It’s not fair that I am not allowed to see her or visit her ever again.”

“Marco, I am so angry that your mother is gone. Life isn’t fair sometimes. Your mother was a good woman, and she died too soon. Don’t let her death change who you are. Grandma loves you.”

Saying goodbye to his mother was the hardest damn thing Marco ever had to do. He had no idea how to process all of his feelings. He was angry at the world, and the pain of not seeing her again was excruciating. The grief from the loss was so intense, and It hurt so badly. Why his mom? Other twelve-year-old boys had their mothers. He shouldn’t have to say goodbye to his mother at such a young age. She wasn’t even old enough to die, and he needed her.

Marco moved into his grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania. He had no belongings other than the football that his sister gave him the day of the fire. The fire destroyed all of his possessions. His grandmother took him shopping for a wardrobe. She provided a pleasant, loving home doing the best she could for Marco, knowing that she could never replace his mother. It broke her heart to know that her grandson had to go through life without a parent. Life was so unfair.

The first year with his grandmother was a tough adjustment for Marco. As if losing his mother wasn’t enough, he had to attend a new school and meet all new friends. It was challenging to make new friends in middle school. Everyone had their cliques, and he was more than a little nervous. There were so many social groups in school, such as the jocks, cool kids, theater kids, brainiacs, nerds, loners, stoners, goth kids, average Joes, and floaters. He had no idea which group he fell into, but wherever it was, his rank would be at the bottom. As luck would have it, the kids he hung out with on his grandmother’s block attended the same school as him. It worked out nicely since he didn’t feel like putting in the extra effort to make new friends.

The first couple of weeks at his grandmother’s house, Marco pretended that he was there for a visit and would return home in a week or two. It was delusional behavior that would eventually lead to disappointment, but it was the only way he knew how to cope with the harsh reality of his mother’s passing. It was so much easier for Marco to trick himself into thinking that he was on vacation. The

fantasy was a less painful option and allowed him to dream of returning home to mom soon. Facing the truth would be too overwhelming, and he didn’t know if he would ever be ready to handle the truth.

Eventually, he did meet some new friends and found an interest in football and baseball. He kept himself occupied as much as possible. Marco was going through a lot of changes, emotionally and physically. His mother died, he was living in a new home, and he was going through puberty. It was so hard for him to control his emotions. One minute he was relaxed and in a good mood. The next minute, he would be agitated and argumentative. He remained stuck on an emotional roller coaster that never stopped. These were the type of conversations that were easy to have with his mother but definitely not his grandmother.

In the first couple of years after the fire, he was a frequent visitor to the principal’s office. He was getting into trouble at school for cursing, throwing a homework paper at his teacher, and leaving the grounds at lunchtime. Marco became friendly with the principal, who was aware of Marco’s situation and knew the boy was acting out due to his grief. His promised visits with Nadia never occurred, and Marco was angry at the world. He lost control of his life when his mother died and then lost touch with his sister. His internal turmoil was bottled up and shoved deep down under the surface. Losing people who were vital in his life caused him to fear losing his grandmother.

His anguish was so intense that it produced a lot of unwanted anxiety.

His protective defense mechanism was to lash out at people who made him angry. Expressing his anger soothed him and camouflaged his pain. Nadia’s father died in a car crash within a year of their mother dying, and there was no other family. Nadia was too young to know where Marco and his grandmother lived, so foster care stepped in to put her into the system. Marco’s grandmother heard the unfortunate news almost a year after the fatal accident. She

contacted family services and found out that Nadia had been with a few foster families and was currently in the adoption process. The new family preferred to keep their identity private and felt that the young girl had been through enough trauma. Unfortunately for Marco, his sister would have to remain a memory of a spunky little eight- year-old girl. For whatever reason, fate would not allow Marco and Nadia to be together.

Marco’s grandmother didn’t have enough money to send him to grief counseling. The best she could do was to continue talking to him and let him know that she was there for him whenever he needed her. She did everything within her power to ensure that Marco didn’t internalize his grief. Football was a great outlet for him for a couple of reasons. His teammates were his brothers and looked out for each other. The physical part of the game was a good outlet for all of his pent-up anger. Football was time-consuming and kept Marco occupied by giving him a new focus. It was also a perfect option, giving him other people to vent to besides his grandmother.

A few years after the fire, Marco found out that it was caused by exposed wires, which were obviously due to the builder’s negligence. The homeowner’s policy paid $40,000 toward the loss of Marco’s home and his grandmother’s expense to provide a home for him. Of course, Marco knew nothing about the money until he turned eighteen. His grandmother let him know that she saved the money for him. It was unfathomable to her that the builder took no responsibility for his actions. When Marco’s grandmother tracked down and notified the builder about the fire’s cause, his only response was, “Sorry for your loss.”

Marco was shocked and furious when she told him the news. It was ridiculous to try and put a price tag on someone’s life, and hard to believe that his mother’s life was only worth $40,000 to the insurance company. The builder’s value of her life was disposable and worth nothing. The builder’s response was comparable to a shrug of the shoulders, which pretty much translated to, “Oh well, you

win some, you lose some.” Marco vowed to get his revenge when the timing was right.

He lived with his grandmother until he graduated from high school. She was a saint for putting up with his antics. He was responsible for many gray hairs on his grandmother’s head. Like every other teenage boy, he tested his limits by sneaking out, staying out past curfew, and sassing his grandma. It could have been much worse considering his circumstances. His grandmother would not trade those gray hairs for anything in the world. She loved Marco with all of her heart and was more than happy to open up her heart and home to him.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.