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“Daniel! Hazel! Come out here!”

I was sitting in my room. It was a bit before lunch and I had some homework out. The mirror was sitting in my closet, pressed against the wall with tape, the hope being that no one would come through. Closing my books and stretching a bit, I left my room, checking for prying eyes and keeping my door closed. As I entered the room that functioned as our living room, dining room, and kitchen, I realized mom wasn’t alone. Gabriella was there as well.

“Eh? Aunt Gab?” Hazel asked as she came out.

That was what we typically called her. She was Mom’s best friend. They were so close that some might have even thought they were lovers. Well, I knew mom wasn’t into women, but sometimes I wondered if Gabriella’s feelings for mother were strictly platonic. Mom was a beautiful and peaceful woman, so it stood to reason she’d tug at the hearts of women as easily as men.

That wasn’t to say Gabriella wasn’t beautiful in her own right. She was an African American woman with black, curly hair and long legs. She wasn’t as curvy as Mom, but her legs and butt always looked good, that was when she wasn’t wearing a lab coat that covered her butt. Right now, she was wearing yoga pants, and it looked like she had come here right from the gym. That wasn’t fair, because she looked criminally good in yoga pants, and I couldn’t even look at her. She noticed me averting my eyes, and gave a mischievous grin.

“Hello, Daniel, you’ve been growing. Come, let Aunt Gab get a good look at you.”

“I’m good.”

“Hehe… so shy. Is it because I gave you a prostate exam during your last checkup?”

“I-it’s not!”  

“Because it’s normal to experience an erection after…”

“I said it’s not!” I snapped, causing her to give a throaty laugh.

She was just trying to get a rise out of me. What she was saying didn’t happen, but there was no use denying it. The true reason I didn’t approach was that I knew why she was there, and it wasn’t just a random visit. It was probably weighing on her mind the news she had given mom. She stopped by to check on mom, and the reason she had Mom call us out here was also quite obvious. She wanted mom to tell us the truth.

“Aunt Gab, it’s pretty late, is there a reason you stopped by?” My sister’s voice flooded the room like ice.

She usually got along great with Aunt Gab. The only time she turned cold and hostile was when Gab tried to tease me. Rather than get worried, Gabriella laughed it off.

“Still as protective as ever, I see. I fear for your brother’s chastity.”

“That’s mine to worry about!” She snorted, crossing her arms, but when Gabriella raised an eyebrow and smirked, she realized what she said. “Th-that’s not what I mean! I mean…”

“Haaah… your children are as adorable as ever, Bree.” She said, seeming slightly relieved.

“Why did you call us out?” I asked, trying to push them to the point.

Gabriella’s expression turned somber, and then she glanced down at Mom. Mom looked at her slightly pleading, but Gabriella shook her head, and Mom sighed. Watching this, Hazel gave a questioning look but remained silent.

“Gabriella thinks the sooner I tell you, the better it will be.” She sighed. “I suppose I should just say it. I have stage 3 breast cancer.”

“N-no!” Hazel covered her mouth, and I diverted my eyes as tears filled hers.

“It’s okay!” Gabriella declared. “Although it’s spread through the region, I’ve talked to a surgeon who believes he can remove it safely.”

“Remove it… won’t that mean… her breast…” Hazel sniffled as mom wrapped her arm around her hips and hugged her close.

“Yes… also, she’ll need chemotherapy.”

“She’ll be disfigured,” Hazel said.

“That’s not true… there are many options these days!” Gabriella explained. “L-look on the bright side, at least, with one breast, she might not be… ah, nevermind…”

Gabriella was trying to help, but perhaps she was too close to our family to do so successfully. It was true, with one breast, mom might no longer be treated as the immaculate beauty she once was. She might not be hit on as shamelessly by horny people who cause her to lose her job. My hands clenched tightly at my side as I thought about it.

“It’s fine… I won’t be accepting treatment.” Mom responded gently.

“What?” Gabriella stood up from her chair, her eyes wide.

“I… can’t afford it. I don’t even have a job anymore.”

“What? But what about? Don’t tell me…”

She glanced away. “I didn’t think he’d corner me in the storage room. His wife came in just as he grabbed me.”

“Bastards!” Gabriella slammed the table angrily, but then she shook her head. “Even so, you have to take treatment. Your cancer is aggressive. It might become type 4 at any time.”

She gave a sad smile. “Death comes for everyone eventually. I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to fight this battle.”

“What are you saying? Your kids need you!” Gabriella grabbed Mother’s shoulders, but she seemed unperturbed.

“Mom, don’t act that way! I can… I can get a job modeling! That will pay for it!”

Hazel had always received countless offers to model but had refused them all. She even looked at them with a bit of scorn. Being forced to wear skimpy outfits while she was ogled was something my sister hated the most. It spoke to her desperation that she made this offer.

“You’re both already adults. You’re already in your twenties, and Daniel is almost 18. I’ve already raised the pair of you. The best I can do now is give you the best possible future.”

Hazel was openly crying now, wiping her tears as she spoke. “How can the best possible future be without you?”

“If I live, I will pull you both into debt. How can you start your lives having to help me with my expensive medical bills?” Mom explained.

“Bree… what did you do?” Gabriella demanded, her eyes narrowing.

Mother looked away, making it even more suspicious.

“Tell me!”

Mom sighed. “They… wouldn’t approve me for life insurance because of the cancer, but I was able to take out a loan. Not a lot, just $100,000.

“A $100,000 loan! Bree, what for?”

“It’s fine. I paid for loan protection. In the event of my death, the loan is instantly forgiven. At that point, my son and daughter will have $50,000 each to go to college and start their lives.”

“Mom, no…” Hazel shook her head.

I had remained in stony silence throughout the entire conversation.

“Bree, this is wrong! This is-“

“This is what I chose to do!” Mom stood up and yelled. “Please stop! I have done nothing for my children but burdened them our entire lives. We’ve lived in poverty because I can’t keep a job. I haven’t been able to put any money away for their future, let alone give them the life they deserve! This is my only chance to give something back to my family. Don’t ruin it.

Gabriella stepped back with her mouth open. It was rare that mom ever yelled at anyone. To hear her raise her voice now, it caught us all completely off guard. Tears fell down mom’s face, and then she spun around and went to her room, closing the door, leaving the rest of us there in silence.

“She… um…” Gabriella wiped a tear from her face. “She’ll come around. She’s just in shock right now, you guys understand, right? Give me a week or two, and I’ll convince her to get treatment.”

“But… didn’t you say every moment counts?” Hazel responded with a raspy voice.

Gabriella gave a weak smile, and then reached out and hugged Hazel. “It’s okay. We’ll figure this out. Just support your mother right now. You can’t believe the stress she’s under. We need to be supporting her right now. Remember, she’s the one with cancer.”

Hazel hugged Gabriella back, rubbing her tears against the other woman’s shirt. I watched them holding each other for a bit. Gabriella’s attention turned to me.

“Daniel, you doing okay?”

I nodded and then stood up. “I’m feeling a bit tired. I’ll be going to bed.”

“Brother…” Hazel reached out her hand to me.

I took it and squeezed. “I’m fine. I just need to think about things.”

I turned to walk away, but before I was halfway to my room, Gabriella called out to me.

“I’m here for both of you.” She said. “Don’t feel like you have to do this all on your own.”

I stopped for a second and looked back with a smile. “I know. If I need help, I’ll come to you.”

“Tsk…” Gabriella looked away. “No fair, doesn’t he realize the effect that smile has on women.”

“Y-you can come in me too, Brother!”

I raised my hand and left for my room. When I closed the door, I suddenly realized there seemed to be something off about what she said, but I decided I misheard her. My mind was focused on other things.

I had thought I could just get past my problems. I had convinced myself mom would just be fine. I’d get a job. We’d take care of it. I was just being naïve. I was letting my fear overwhelm the fact that I could do something about this.

I looked at my closet and the mirror propped up inside. I had to go back. I had to get that anti-cancer medication.

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