On the way to the airport, James’ phone buzzes. He frowns, pulling it out of his pocket. He looks at Kira.
“Didn’t I tell you to divert all my calls until I land in Montreal?” He tries to keep the annoyance out of his voice.
“I’m sorry, I thought I did…” Her voice trails off. He bites back the sarcastic comment bubbling to his lips and checks the caller ID. A smile breaks through his irritation. Jenna.
His smile grows impossibly wider. “Alexander! Hey, buddy!”
There’s the sound of a scuffle as the phone changes hands.
“Hey, James,” Jenna says. He can hear the smile in her voice. “I’m sorry. I know you’re busy, but he didn’t want you to leave without saying goodbye.” She pauses. “Again.”
James chuckles. “It’s fine,” he says, staring out the window. He catches Kira’s reflection in the glass. She’s trying to suppress a smile. “Put him on,” he says, running his finger along the edge of the window. “I’ve got time.”
“Okay, one sec,” Jenna says. The phone changes hands again.
“Are you on a plane yet?”
He can hear the smile in Alexander’s voice, too.
“Not yet,” he says, leaning back in his seat. “But soon.”
“A James soon?”
James laughs out loud. “Where did you hear that?” he asks, glancing at Kira. She’s pretending to check her emails on her iPad.
Alexander giggles. “Aunt Jenna told me. She said you say soon when you really mean TEN YEARS!!”
“Oh she did, did she? Well I’m going to have to speak to her about that…” He breathes out. It’s a contented sound. “No, buddy. Not a James soon. A real soon. Hey, shouldn’t you be in bed? What’s the time?” He checks his wrist and finds it bare. His grin grows wider.
“It’s…Uhhh…” The sounds on the end of the line are muffled. He hears Alexander whisper, what does that say? He pictures him showing Jenna his watch so she can tell him the time. The thought fills him with joy.
“The rocket watch says it is seven-thirty-seven,” Alexander says.
“Astro Boy,” James says.
“His name is Astro Boy, remember?”
“Oh! Well Astro Boy says it is seven-thirty-seven.”
James closes his eyes. “Well that sounds like bed time to me, buddy.”
“Yes it does!” Jenna calls in the background. Alexander must have the volume on the phone turned all the way up again.
“Noooo,” Alexander says. James can practically hear the pout in his voice.
“Yes,” he says, nodding even though Alexander can’t see him. “It’s bed time. Have you had a bath? Eaten all your veggies? Conquered the world?”
Alexander giggles. “You’re silly.”
“The silliest. Now give the phone back to your Aunt Jenna and hop into bed, okay?”
Alexander sighs. “Ohhhhkayyyy…No. Wait. Will you sing me a song?”
James opens his eyes. He looks over at Kira again. She really does seem to be checking emails now.
He hears Jenna in the background. “Alexander, honey, I think James is busy right now. You’d better say goodnight.”
“No he’ll sing me a song. Won’t you, James? Pleeeease…”
He closes his eyes again.
“Sure, buddy. I’ll sing you a lullaby.”
He blocks out Kira and his driver. He even blocks out Jenna. In his mind’s eye, it’s just him and Alexander, alone in Alexander’s room. The walls are blue. There’s a crayon family drawn on the wall. And James sings him to sleep.
“We should do a livestream!” James says brightly on the morning of the ASH screening in Montreal. It was the final instalment of the HEAT series, and it was bigger than ever. No matter how many awards they won, James never failed to be blown away when people actually liked their movies. He never thought they were good enough. He never felt he was good enough.
Kira and Bradley exchange a look.
“You’re awfully chipper this morning,” Bradley says, reaching across the table for a Danish pastry. “You sure you want to try and fit one in today? We’ve got a lot going on.”
James nods, pouring himself a bowl of muesli and almond milk. “We can squeeze it in, for sure. Say hi to everyone, answer a couple of questions about the film…” He pauses to shove a spoonful of muesli into his mouth. “It will be fun!” he says, chewing noisily.
Bradley takes a swig of his orange juice. “Well I’d be a pretty shitty publicist if I discouraged you from interacting with your fans! It sounds like a great idea if you can juggle everything. Michael?”
Michael leans against the wall and stares blankly into his coffee cup.
“Michael?” Bradley repeats. Michael finally looks up. He adjusts his sunglasses.
Bradley clears his throat. “Livestream before the premier. Answer some questions, goof around…You in?”
Michael stares at him like it is taking him a moment to process what has been said.
“Oh,” he says finally. “I can’t. Gotta go through a few things, you know. Get ready for the screening.”
Bradley nods and looks down at his Danish. James’ eyes stay trained on his brother.
“We’ll do that together before the screening,” he says evenly. Michael turns towards him. His movements are messy. Stilted. Like he is trying too hard to look sober.
“I need some time to prepare alone, too,” Michael says. “I’ll see you at the screening.” He stands up, taking his coffee cup with him. He hasn’t touched the Danish on his plate.
“We have a signing at three,” James says, a little too loudly. “Sarah will meet you in your dressing room at two forty-five. She’ll show you where to go.”
It’s not a request. Bradley stares at his plate and pretends to be absorbed in studying a crack in the lip.
Michael sways a little. James tightens his jaw.
“Yeah, about that. I’m not feeling so good. I might need to skip this one.”
Everyone in the room holds their breath.
“You can make a brief appearance,” James says, putting his spoon down. “You don’t have to stay for the whole thing.”
Michael taps his fingers on his coffee cup.
“I better not. Wouldn’t want to make anyone sick.”
“Then just come by for the last fifteen minutes or so.”
Michael smirks. James wants to wipe that smirk clean off his face.
“I’d better rest for the main event,” he says, starting to walk away. “Not like it will matter, anyway,” he says just as he reaches the door. “I’m not the one they come to see.”
James feels Bradley and Kira’s eyes on him.
“Livestream in an hour,” he says, standing up. “Be ready.” He walks out, leaving his forgotten bowl of muesli on the table.