It takes over an hour to finish with the police. It’s stopped snowing. James watches the firemen use the Jaws of Life to cut Meredith’s body out of the car as he answers the police officer’s questions. Alexander keeps his face buried in James’ hair. Ruby is taken away in an ambulance. James hopes her father will be at the hospital to meet her.
“Okay,” the police officer says, putting away her notebook. James didn’t catch her name. “I think we have everything we need. We may be in contact later if anything comes up.”
James nods, adjusting his hold on Alexander.
“Thank you for your co-operation,” she says. She looks at Michael. “Both of you.”
She leaves. James watches her go. The coroners have arrived now. They are zipping Meredith into a body bag.
“Come on,” Michael says, putting his hand on James’ arm. Some of his colour has returned. Only some. “Let’s get going.”
James turns away from the devastating scene and shuffles towards the car. The walk seems to last forever. Finally, they get to the car. He tries to put Alexander down in his seat.
“No!” Alexander cries out suddenly, holding on to him. “No!!”
James jumps, hitting his head on the car roof.
“Alex?” Michael says from outside the car. “Are you okay?”
“James,” Alexander says, starting to cry. “Don’t go. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me!!”
James backs out of the car as Alexander holds onto him even tighter. His grip is like a vice.
“I’m not going anywhere,” James says, trying to see his face. Alexander won’t move out of his hair. “Alexander, buddy, I’m right here. I’m not leaving you.”
“Yes you are!” Alexander sobs, wrapping his legs around James’ waist. “You went to that car! You left me! You said you never would!”
Alexander’s sobs border on hysterical. He squeezes James even harder. James hugs him tightly. He doesn’t know what else to do. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know how to tell Alexander not to be scared when they both know that there is plenty to be scared of. People always say that monsters aren’t real, but they are. They are.
“I’m sorry,” James says, trying to keep his voice steady. “I had to go, buddy. I had to help those people. I wasn’t leaving you. I wasn’t.”
Alexander’s sobs reach the hysterical point. “You went into the broken car!” he sobs. “I couldn’t see you! I couldn’t I didn’t you said…” His sobs cut him off. James turns to Michael. He looks stricken.
“He was looking the other way,” he whispers, growing paler by the minute. “I didn’t know he saw any of it. I didn’t know he was watching.”
“Alexander,” James says, helplessly rubbing his back. “Buddy. Alexander. I’m fine. I did go into the broken car, but I’m fine. I didn’t get hurt. Look at me. I didn’t get hurt.”
Alexander sobs even louder. The police officers are looking over at them now. They can hear him from the wreckage.
“Shhhh,” James says, rocking Alexander in his arms. “It’s okay, buddy. It’s okay.”
Alexander’s sobs eventually quieten down into shuddering breaths. His grip on James doesn’t loosen.
“You…said…you…wouldn’t…leave…me,” Alexander gasps, struggling to catch his breath. “You…said…you…wouldn’t…die.”
James’ heart shatters into a million little pieces. He tries to put Alexander down so he can look at him, but Alexander refuses to let go. It starts to snow again.
“Look at me,” he says, trying not to let his voice shake too much. “I’m right here. I didn’t die.”
“You went into the broken car,” Alexander whimpers again, still struggling to catch his breath. “I thought…I thought…” He dissolves into tears. James looks at Michael.
“What do I?” he whispers. “What do I do, Michael?”
Michael only shakes his head. He doesn’t know.
They stand like that, outside the car in the steadily increasing snow, until eventually Alexander’s sobbing stops entirely. James tries to see his face, but he’s scared to move him. Michael moves James’ hair out of the way so he can see.
“He’s asleep,” Michael whispers.
He cried himself to sleep.
Michael shivers. “We’d better get going.” He blows on his hands in an effort to warm them up. “He’ll get sick if we stay out here much longer.”
James nods, but he’s afraid to put him down. He’s afraid of what will happen when he does.
“Let’s do this quickly,” he says to Michael. “Can you drive? I don’t think he’d cope if he wakes up and I’m in the front.”
Michael goes even paler, but he nods. “Yeah. I can drive.”
James breathes out. “Okay,” he says. “It’s now or never.”
Michael opens the passenger door. James slips Alexander into his seat as carefully as he can, trying not to wake him. Alexander mumbles something, but his eyes don’t open. He still has a fist full of James’ hair. James uncurls his fingers until he can pull away.
“Alright,” James says to Michael, walking around to the other side of the car. “Let’s go.”
“You still want to go to Vail?” Michael asks as they get into the car. James looks at Alexander. He’s frowning. James has an overwhelming desire to pull him into his arms and never let him go.
“I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “But we have to tonight. We’ll decide in the morning if we’re going to stay.”
Michael nods and starts the engine. James puts his arm around Alexander, leaning towards him. “It’s alright, buddy,” he whispers in his ear. “You’re safe. We’re safe. I’m here.”
Michael pulls onto the road, driving much slower than the speed limit. Alexander wriggles closer to James without waking up.
“I’m here,” James repeats. “I’m here.”
They drive the rest of the way to Vail in silence.