[Parts 1-43 are here. Are you really sure you want to read on?? It's not going to be rainbows and butterflies...]
James looks up. Thomas is standing in the doorway.
“How are you doing?”
James turns away. He looks out the window. It’s snowing.
He hates the snow.
“How’s Alexander?” he asks, ignoring the question. “Is he okay? Has he shown any symptoms?”
Thomas comes over and picks up James’ chart. “No,” he says, reading it. “He’s fine so far. He misses you.”
James feels empty. Numb.
“Has he had the culture test done?”
Thomas nods and puts the chart back in the holder on the end of James’ bed. “Yes, but it’s only been a few hours, same as yours. Dr Williams put a rush on it, but the lab has to wait for the culture to grow before they can test it. They can’t make it grow faster, unfortunately.”
James wonders how he’s going to last a few days away from Alexander when the last few hours have been pure hell. He vaguely considers asking to be sedated until he is allowed to see Alexander again.
No, he thinks. If I’m sedated and something happens to Michael or Alexander…He can’t bring himself to finish the thought.
“He’s out of surgery now. Your mom is with him, but he hasn’t woken up yet. They drained the abscess and have started him on IV antibiotics. I’m sure someone has told you that MRSA is resistant to most antibiotics, so it may take some time for Dr Phillips to find the right treatment.”
James doesn’t want to ask the question, but he makes himself do it anyway. “Do…Do people die from this?”
Thomas hesitates before answering. “Yes,” he says quietly. “They do.”
James doesn’t think he can handle much more. He falls silent. Thomas lingers as though he expects James to ask more questions, but when it becomes apparent that he isn’t going to, Thomas leaves. He closes the door behind him, leaving James alone with his thoughts.
He closes his eyes. A series of worst-case scenarios plays in his head, making him weak with fear and dread. He desperately wants to get out of bed and go somewhere, anywhere, but he’s afraid to leave the room in case there’s news about Alexander or Michael. He opens his eyes and chews the inside of his cheek. He obsessively checks the time, staring at the clock on the wall as the seconds trickle into minutes and becoming more and more agitated with every tick of the second hand. The metallic taste of blood fills his mouth. He releases his cheek from his teeth and counts the seconds as they tick by.
Finally he can’t take it anymore. He kicks away the blankets and pulls his own clothes back on. They’d made him put on a hospital gown when he came down to his room.
He’s about to leave when he decides to write a note in case someone comes looking for him. The last thing he wants is to make anyone worry about him. He hunts around for a piece of paper, eventually pulling an unused sheet from his chart and scribbling a quick note on the back.
I can’t stand just sitting here waiting for news. I’ve gone for a walk outside. I’ll be back soon. I won’t go far.
He leaves the note on his pillow and slips out of the hospital unnoticed.
The cold air hits him with enough force to knock the air from his lungs. He tucks his hand into his pocket and walks quickly, venturing further out into the cold. The icy wind finds its way underneath every layer of clothing he’s wearing, making him shiver. He briefly considers the intelligence of being out in the cold when he may be fighting an infection, but he dismisses the thought. He’d rather be out here feeling so cold that his limbs ache than sitting uselessly in his bed. At least the cold gives him something to focus on. He’d rather feel pain than the fear eating away at his heart. He’d rather feel anything than what he is feeling right now.
He spots a snow-covered bench and walks over to it. He brushes away some of the snow and sits down. He watches the people around him going about their day. Going inside the hospital to visit loved ones. Going to work. Taking someone home after their stay. Carrying on like the entire world isn’t falling spectacularly apart.
He turns away.
His eyes fall on a bridge overlooking the freeway. He stares at it, watching the cars drive by. They are going much slower than usual because of the snow. Slow and cautious. Wanting to make it home to the families unscathed. Wives. Husbands.
James swallows. He tries to imagine being part of that world. A world where he, Alexander and Michael went to the snow for a week and had a wonderful time. Where they drank cocoa every night and tortured Michael with bad renditions of Do You Want To Build A Snowman? Snow angels and ice skating. Cupcakes and snowflakes. The way life is supposed to be.
A world where he isn’t sitting outside in the snow wondering if the bridge is high enough should he need to…
No, he thinks, turning away. It won’t come to that. He is awake. His lungs are doing better. His brain is okay. He will be okay. He will be.
He has to be.
He looks down at the snow gathering inside his boots. He couldn’t do them up with only one hand. A memory swims to the surface of his mind of the first time Alexander managed to tie his shoelaces on his own. His happy little face. The way he puffed out his chest proudly and declared he didn’t need help anymore. That he was a big boy.
And now? James thinks, watching the snow fill his boots. Do you still feel like a big boy now? Or do you feel small and afraid like I do?
“I miss you,” James says quietly. “I miss you so much.”
His breath comes out in vaporous puffs, hanging in the air for a moment before dissipating. Insubstantial. Just like the words they carry.
“I never wanted this for you,” James whispers. “I wanted so much more for you. I wanted to be better for you. I wanted to be good for you. But everything I’ve done…Every move I’ve made so far…” He breathes out. “I don’t even know what to do anymore, buddy. I don’t know how to help. I would do anything to help. To take away all the things that hurt you. The nightmares. The memories. The demons that live inside your head. I would give anything to take away your pain.”
But I’m the one causing it.
He closes his eyes. “Being away from you is torture. Please don’t be sick. Please don’t have MRSA. Please God…Don’t let him have MRSA and please let Michael be okay. Please. You owe me this much. You owe them this much. Don’t hurt them any more. Don’t put them through anything else. Please. Please. Please.”
James opens his eyes. Elizabeth is standing a few feet away from him, hugging her arms across her body in an effort to stay warm.
“I came up to see you and found your note. What are you doing out here?? It’s freezing!”
“Mom.” He’s not sure how to explain himself. “I…I needed to get out of that hospital for a while. I needed some time to think.”
“Come on,” James says, standing up. “Let’s get you back inside.”
Elizabeth shakes her head and sits down on the bench.
“No,” she says, shivering more. “I need a moment, too.”
James stares at her for a few seconds before sitting down beside her. The wind blows a flurry of snow around their feet.
“He’s awake,” Elizabeth says. “He’s doing okay, physically. Mentally…” She shakes her head. “Dr Phillips told him about you and Alexander. He took it really hard. He blames himself.”
“That’s ridiculous,” James says, watching a snowflake drift down from the sky. “It’s not his fault.”
Elizabeth laughs humourlessly. “Yes well it seems that both my boys have a talent for blaming themselves for things that aren’t their fault.” Her voice drops. “I guess when you are told that everything is your fault for most of your childhood....”
“Stop it,” James says, turning to her. “He has no bearing on our lives whatsoever. You are all the parent we’ve ever needed.”
Elizabeth doesn’t say anything. Instead she looks down at James’ boots.
“Your boots are undone.”
James tries to smile. “Yeah. Hard to do them up with only one hand.”
Elizabeth gets off the seat and crouches down in front of him, shaking the snow from his boots and doing them up for him. It makes James feel five years old and gives him an overwhelming desire to crawl into her lap and cry himself to sleep.
“There,” she says, sitting beside him again.
“Thank you,” James says quietly.
“We better get inside,” Elizabeth says. “It isn’t good for you to be out here in this cold. You’ll get sick.”
“Yeah,” James says.
Neither of them move.
“Mom,” James says after a few minutes. “What would…What would you do if something…If something happened to me or Michael?”
Elizabeth pales. “I wouldn’t cope,” she whispers. Tears spring to her eyes at the thought. “I wouldn’t cope at all.”
“But what would you do?”
She turns to him. “What could I do? There’s nothing that could be done. All I could do was hold onto every memory and try to make you proud.”
Yes there is. There is something to be done.
She stares at him so intensely that he feels as though she is reading his thoughts. He turns away, but he can still feel her eyes on him.
“Alexander is going to be okay,” she says, burning him with her gaze. “He is going to be okay, James. He is.”
James doesn’t meet her eyes. “I can’t lose him. I can't lose him and I can’t lose Michael.”
“Nobody is losing anyone,” Elizabeth says, unfolding her arms and putting her hand on James’ cheek. He looks at her. “Nobody is going to lose anyone,” she repeats.
James nods half-heartedly.
“James Joseph Axton, you listen to me: We will be okay. All of us. There is simply no other option. Do you understand?”
James nods again with slightly more conviction.
Elizabeth brushes the snow out of his eyebrows. “Good.” She smiles at him. “Now let’s go back inside before you add pneumonia to your list of ailments.”
She stands up and holds out her hand. James takes it and she helps him to his feet. She slips her arm around the crook of his and together they walk back to the hospital, leaving the snow behind.