Ps, I know I said yesterday that I'd post this in the morning and it's currently eight o'clock at night (my time) but some things are still not working as they should. Certain things are just broken and useless, but I'll keep trying to fix it for you guys. I'm sorry. I'm trying. Xo]
Michael comes back inside, shaking the snow off his jacket. He puts his phone down on the kitchen table and sits down on a chair, lifting his leg onto the chair in front of him.
“I went as far as I could without losing sight of the cabin. There’s no signal out here. Too many trees, or maybe the blizzard knocked out a tower or something.” He grimaces, massaging his leg.
James can feel Alexander’s shallow breaths on his neck. He pulls the top blanket off himself. The bed is becoming too hot. It’s making him feel claustrophobic.
“Michael,” James starts, but he doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. Michael meets his gaze.
“I know, brother,” he says. “I know.”
Michael drags his leg off the chair and hobbles around the cabin, searching the cupboards again.
“Maybe I missed something,” he mutters to himself. “This is a park ranger cabin…Surely they must have some form of communication.”
“It doesn’t look like it’s been used in a while,” James says despite himself. “Maybe…”
Michael stops and turns around.
“Don’t say it,” he says, shaking his head. “Just don’t.”
James bites the inside of his cheek and doesn’t say anything more. Michael resumes searching the cupboards.
“What?!” James’ heart flutters in his chest. “What did you find??”
Michael pulls a long white box from the cupboard. A first aid kit.
“This is good,” Michael says, putting it down on the table. “We can use this.”
“Maybe there’s a phone in there,” James says, daring to hope. Michael opens it and silently searches through the contents, occasionally putting items on the table. James holds his breath.
Michael’s shoulders slump.
“No phone,” James says quietly.
Michael shakes his head. “No. No phone. I just don’t get it, you know? I don’t fucking get it. How could they be out here with no means of communication? What if they needed something? What if something happened??” He picks up an empty wicker basket from the table and hurls it at the wall in frustration. The noise wakes Alexander.
“James?” he whispers, struggling to open his eyes. “James?”
“I’m here,” James says, adjusting his hold on him. “You’re okay.”
“Are we home?”
James can’t bring himself to give him the answer. Instead he looks over at the first aid kit. Michael has taken out a few bandages, a sling and a book. James can just make out the title. A Quick Guide to First Aid.
“Listen, buddy,” he says, bracing himself. “Uncle Michael found a first aid kit. We’re going to…We need to bandage your arm and put it in a real sling. Okay?”
Alexander squeezes his eyes closed and shakes his head.
James tightens his jaw. “Yes, buddy,” he says, feeling Alexander’s heart beat against his. It’s much too fast. “We have to. It won’t hurt as much when it’s properly bandaged. Do you think you can do it?”
“No,” Alexander whimpers, pushing his face into James’ neck. James can feel warm tears sliding over his collarbone. “Please no.”
James almost caves. He almost says okay, buddy. We’ll leave it alone. But he can feel the heat coming off Alexander from under the covers. He can feel the way his arm has swollen, feel the way his skin has tightened and stretched under the pressure of the break and the way it has been thrown about over the last few hours. And even though he can’t bring himself to think it, he knows what happens to untreated breaks. He closes his eyes, unwilling to acknowledge the thought. Acknowledging it would make it real, and it can’t be real.
It can’t be real.
“You’re going to have to be brave, Alex,” Michael says from the table. “You’ve been so brave already. You’re the bravest kid I know. You can do it. I know you can. James and I will be right here. It will be over soon.”
Alexander shudders and takes a deep breath.
“Okay,” he whispers, staring at James through tear-soaked eyes. “I can be brave.”
“Alright,” James says, although the very thought makes him sick. “Okay. Close your eyes. I’ll be right here. It will be over before you know it.”
Alexander closes his eyes. James looks over to Michael and nods. Michael brings over the bandages and the sling.
“We need to splint it,” James says quietly. “We need to immobilize it.”
Michael hunts around the cabin. Alexander whimpers as James sits up. Michael returns with an old newspaper, a plastic serving spoon and a stick.
“The newspaper,” James says, reaching for it. “And some tape.”
Michael gives it to him and gets the tape out of the first aid kit. James folds the newspaper into a stiff board the length and width of Alexander’s arm and secures it with tape.
“You ready?” he asks Michael. Michael nods. “Okay, Alexander,” James says, hoping he doesn’t sound as terrified as he feels. “I need you to lie flat on your back. I’m going to pull back the blankets just enough to see your arm, and then…Then I’m going to take off the dishtowel and wrap it in the bandage instead. Is that okay?”
Alexander squeezes his eyes shut tighter. His bottom lip trembles and tears run down his cheeks. But he nods and rolls onto his back.
James swallows the bile rising in his throat.
“Okay, buddy.” He pulls back the blankets. “Okay. Count to two hundred in your head. We’ll be finished by the time you get there.”
He prays that is true.
He looks at Michael. Michael gives him an encouraging nod.
“Okay,” he says to himself. “Okay.”
He unties the make-shift sling. Alexander bites his lip. Hard.
James grits his teeth and reaches for Alexander’s arm. He barely touches it before Alexander starts to sob.
“It’s okay,” James says, sliding the newspaper splint underneath it, trying to move it as little as possible. He thanks God that it seems to have realigned itself with all the movement. He couldn’t bring himself to set it. “It’s okay.”
Alexander’s sobs grow louder. He starts to count out loud.
“FORTY SEVEN FORTY EIGHT FORTY NINE…”
“Bandage,” James says through clenched teeth. Michael gives it to him. James swallows a second wave of bile. “Hold his arm up a little so I can bandage the splint in place.”
“NINEY EIGHT NINETY NINE…”
James works as quickly as he can, trying not to let his hands shake. When he’s finished bandaging the splint in place he grabs the sling and puts it across Alexander’s chest.
“Put his arm down,” he says to Michael. His voice trembles. Michael does and James secures the sling around Alexander’s neck, crossing his arm across his heart.
“ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN…”
“We’re done, buddy,” James says, covering Alexander with the blanket. “We’re done.”
Alexander stops counting. The sobs return. He reaches for James with his good arm, wrapping his fingers into his hair and clinging to him. James rubs his back, careful not to move his arm.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry.”
“P-p-p-please can I go home,” Alexander sobs. He buries his face in James’ hair. His warm forehead is pressed against James’ neck.
“We will soon,” James whispers, holding him as close as he dares. “We will be home soon.”
“Please,” Alexander mumbles. “Please.”
James turns to Michael. “He’s warm,” he says, trying to keep his voice steady.
“That’s good,” Michael says. “He needed to—”
“No,” James says. “He’s too warm. I think…I think he has a fever.”
Michael stands up and goes over to the first aid kit. He returns with a digital thermometer.
“Put this under his tongue,” he says, cleaning it with an alcohol swab and giving it to James.
James takes it. “Alexander,” he says gently. “I need to take your temperature. I need to put this under your tongue.”
Alexander mumbles incoherently, but he doesn’t resist. After a minute, the thermometer beeps.
“One-oh-one.” James feels like he can't breathe. “All that pain…All that movement of his arm…The cold must have been keeping the fever at bay, but now…” He can’t finish the thought.
Michael pales and takes back the thermometer, returning to the first aid kit.
“Please can I go home,” Alexander mumbles. “I want to see James.”
James puts his hand on Alexander’s flushed face. “I’m here, buddy,” he says, taking off his bomber hat. “I’m here with you.”
“James,” Alexander mumbles. “I want to see James.”
“JAMES!” Alexander screams. “Please can I go home I want James I want to see James please let me see James!”
James feels like he’s been punched in the stomach.
“I’m right here, Alexander. I’m with you. I’m here. I’m here.”
“Where’s James?” Alexander sobs. “Please let me see James! I won’t tell anyone! I just want to see James!”
“Alexander!” James says, starting to panic. “Alexander! I’m here! Open your eyes! Look at me! I’m right here!”
“James,” Alexander sobs. “I want James.”
“Michael,” James says, looking up. “Michael, he –”
“He thinks he’s back with the kidnappers,” Michael says, pulling a bottle out of the first aid kit. He looks as sick as James feels. “He’s hallucinating.”
He grabs a glass from the sink and holds it under the faucet. For a few horrible moments nothing happens, then the tap splutters into life and coughs dirty water into the glass. Michael keeps tipping it out until the water runs clear. He washes the glass and fills it, bringing it over to the bed.
“Alex,” he says. “Alexander. This will make you feel better. Take this.”
“NO!” Alexander screams, flinging his good arm out and knocking the glass out of Michael’s hand. “NO!! I DON’T WANT IT! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME TAKE IT! I WANT JAMES! LET ME SEE JAMES! LET ME GO HOME! I WON’T TELL ANYONE! I WON’T! I JUST WANT JAMES!”
Michael picks up the glass and fills it up again. “J,” he says, limping back over. “He has to take this. It’s Tylenol. It will help with his pain and reduce the fever.”
“He thinks I’m Grady,” James whispers, staring at Michael without seeing him. “He thinks…I hurt him so much that he thinks…”
Michael puts down the glass and the pills on the bedside table and puts his hand on James’ shoulder.
“Look at me, J,” he says firmly. “You can’t fall apart. You cannot fall apart. Alexander needs you. You need to be strong for him. You do not get to fall apart.”
James stares at him. He blinks, releasing the tears that had gathered in his eyes.
“He needs the Tylenol,” he whispers.
Michael nods. “Yes.”
James turns to the bedside table. Alexander is still sobbing and mumbling into his neck.
“He can’t think you’re Grady,” Michael says, picking up the pill bottle and taking one out. “He wouldn’t be holding onto you like that. He knows you’re James. Some part of him knows.” He hands the pill to James. “We have to get his fever down,” he says, picking up the glass of water and giving it to him. “He has to take it.”
James swallows and turns to Alexander.
“Buddy,” he whispers hoarsely. Even though he’s been out of the blankets for at least ten minutes, his skin is still warm to the touch. “Alexander, I need you to take this pill, okay? It will make you feel better.”
Alexander shakes his head and squirms away from him.
“I want James,” he sobs. “I want my daddy.”
James’ hand shakes enough to spill water onto the bed.
“Okay, buddy,” he says. “Okay. If you take this pill I will take you to see James. If you swallow this and drink this water, I will take you to see your daddy.”
Alexander looks at him. His eyes are glazed are unfocused. “Do you promise?”
James nods. “I promise. Just take this and you…” He can’t bring himself to say it. He can’t bring himself to lie.
“I can go home?” Alexander asks, taking a shuddering breath in.
James doesn’t answer.
“Will you take me home?”
James looks down at the pill in his hand.
He needs to take it.
“Yes, Alexander,” he whispers. “I will take you home.”
Alexander snatches the pill and gulps it down with the water. Some of it spills down his chin, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
“I want James,” he says, handing back the glass. “You said I could go back to James.”
“I know, but—”
“YOU SAID! I WANT TO SEE JAMES NOW!”
James tries to put his arm around him. “Alexander, I—”
“NO!” Alexander roars, pushing him away. “YOU’RE A LIAR! YOU PROMISED! YOU LIED!” He tries to fling himself out of the bed but Michael catches him, holding him in place. Alexander starts to scream.
“JAMES! JAMES! JAMES!”
“Alexander!” James cries, trying to gather him into his arms. “I’m here! You’re safe! I’m here!”
Alexander bites him and tries to escape. He knocks his broken arm against Michael’s body hard enough to make him gasp. He stops struggling and allows Michael to put him back into bed. Tears roll down his cheeks.
“Where’s James,” he repeats over and over again. “I need James. I need to go home. Please let me go home.”
James tentatively pulls him into his arms.
“I’m here,” he whispers. “Look at me, I’m here. You’re safe. I’m here.”
“James?” Alexander mumbles. His eyelids start to close. “Don’t…Don’t leave me.”
“I won’t,” James says. His voice shakes. “I’ll never leave you.”
Alexander’s body relaxes and his fingers find their way into James hair. His heart rate slowly starts to return to normal. James watches him as he drifts off sleep.
And counts his heart beats.