Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty

[Hi. I missed you. I'm sorry I was gone.

Parts 1-39 are here. If you're still reading even after I keep disappearing, you are my favourite. Thank you Xo]


An hour later, there’s a knock at the door.

“Come in,” James says, just barely loud enough to be heard. Violet opens the door.

“You have a visitor.”

James looks up. “My mom?”

“No,” Michael says, wheeling into the room. “Your brother. Or did you forget you have one?” He looks up at Thomas and grins. “I’ve got this. I’ve driven one of these before.”

Thomas smiles and both he and Violet leave and close the door.

Michael wheels over to James. “So, brother,” he says, stopping beside him. “I was beginning to forget what you look like. You’re hairier than I remember.”

James almost manages to smile. He runs his hand over his beard. “Yeah. I need to shave. Maybe I should have asked Mom to get me a razor from the store.”

Michael smiles and looks over at Alexander.

“God,” he says quietly, taking in all the tubes and monitors. “Mom told me what to expect, but…God. I’m so sorry, J.” He turns to James. “I’m so sorry you both have to go through this.”

What about what you have to go through?

“I have been coming to see you,” James says, avoiding his gaze. “I’ve been down every day.”

“I know, brother. I know. Apparently you have Thomas on sleep watch. He told me he calls whenever I’m asleep so you can come down.”

James bites the inside of his cheek. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

James tries to word his explanation in a way that doesn’t sound completely selfish.

“Mike, I…”

“I get it, man. I get it. I know you too well not to understand what’s going on inside that head of yours. I would have been up here sooner to kick your ass for being such a dumbass, but they wouldn’t let me out of bed until now.” He breathes out heavily. “James, if you think for one single second that I could ever blame you for what happened—”

“Michael please don’t give me a pep talk on how this isn’t my fault. Mom already tried today, and I just…I can’t hear it.”

Michael’s eyes narrow. “Well too fucking bad. You don’t get to avoid me for three days and then not listen to what I have to say.”

James can’t argue with that, so he doesn’t.

Michael takes a deep breath. “This is an awful situation, J. This past year has been the hardest year of both our lives – which is saying a lot, considering our childhood. But James, for God’s sake try to get it through your head that this is NOT YOUR FAULT. Believe it or not, you are not God. You do not control the universe. You do not make the sun rise, you do not make it rain and you definitely do not make bad things happen. I’m not saying you don’t make bad choices. Hiding away from the world and stewing in your own misguided guilt, for example, is a fucking terrible choice. But you don’t get to feel guilty for this. You don’t get to blame yourself for this and retreat into the dark place in your mind. You don’t get to shut me out. You can try, but I will take a goddamn sledgehammer to any walls you build. Every time.”

“Michael,” James starts. “You don’t—”

“I didn’t say I was finished,” Michael says, cutting him off. “What happened out there…What’s happened to my leg…I won’t lie: it is awful. It is horrible, but James, if I’m not sitting here wallowing in it, what the hell gives you the right to do that? Why do you get to feel my pain? Don’t you think you have enough of your own? Don’t you think you have enough to worry about without adding me to that list?”

“I—”

“I’m not done. Wait your turn. God!” Michael almost smiles. “Now if you want to talk guilt, let’s talk about me. Let’s not forget that I was the one who insisted on going up the slope rather than taking the streets. I was the one who chose the location for the snow trench that got swept away in the avalanche. I was the one dangling from the cliff which was why you told Alexander to go stand across the frozen lake! If anyone should be stricken by guilt right now, brother, it’s me. Not you.”

“We were at the snow in the first place because of me,” James says. “It was my idea.”

“And yes, what a terrible father you are. Trying to take your son on a nice holiday; how very awful. Let me ask you this: If we had been drinking cocoa in our unit when an avalanche hit, would you blame yourself? Or if we were at home in LA and there was an earthquake, would you blame yourself then? Or if we went hiking and—”

“Stop,” James says. “It’s not the same.”

Michael glares at him. “Actually it’s exactly the same; you’re just too stubborn to see it.” He sighs. “Look. Here’s the thing. If you want to declare yourself the winner of the blame game, nobody is going to be able to stop you. But just know that I will be here every step of the way, calling bullshit on your every word. Because right now, brother, you are full of it.”

James looks at Alexander. “I don’t know how to forgive myself,” he says quietly. “I don’t know how to not blame myself.”

Michael’s voice softens. “Well for starters, you stop avoiding me. You stop lying to Mom about how you’re doing and you stop punishing yourself. It will take time, brother. It will. But you have Mom and you have me. We won’t let you go through this alone. You can’t push us away. The harder you push, the harder we will pull. And I hate to bring this up, but I am more built than you. I could take you down.” He grins and raises his eyebrow.

Despite himself, James smiles. “I’m sorry, Michael,” he says, meeting his eyes. “I really am.”

“This is the point,” Michael says. “You need to stop being sorry. You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”

“Yeah,” James says softly. “Okay.”

Michael smiles. “Good. Now I would hug you, but…” He gestures to his leg. “I was told that if I tried to stand I’d be chained to the bed until my incision heals.” He chuckles.

James stands up and gives him an awkward one-armed hug. “Thank you,” he says earnestly. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Yeah,” Michael says, releasing him. “Me too.”

James sits down, feeling some of the weight in his chest lift.

“So,” Michael says. The tone of his voice changes, as does the atmosphere in the room. “Mom’s told me what’s been going on, but…How’s he doing?”

James’ stomach drops. “He’s stable.” His voice changes, too. “He’s stable, but he’s not getting better. Not getting worse. But not getting better. I don’t know, Mike.” He leans forward and takes Alexander’s hand. “This is a special kind of hell. Sitting here, not knowing if he is going to be okay, not knowing if he’s going to wake up, not knowing if he can even hear me…” His voice shakes. “This is hell,” he says quietly. “Absolute hell.”

Michael puts his hand on his shoulder. “Yeah,” he says. “I know.”

James swallows. “I just need a sign,” he says, squeezing Alexander’s hand. “Just something to hold onto.” He stares at Alexander. He looks peaceful. Like he could simply be sleeping. “Squeeze my hand, buddy,” he says for the thousandth time. “Please. Uncle Michael is here. He came up to see you.”

“Hey, Alex,” Michael says quietly. “I miss you.”

“We both miss you,” James says, running his thumb over Alexander’s fingers. “We miss you so much. Come back to us. Come back. Please, Alexander. Come back.”

Alexander’s finger

twitches.

James gasps and lets go of his hand.

“What??” Michael asks, panicking. “What is it??”

“His finger.” James stares at it, willing it to move again. “His finger…He moved his finger!”

“What?” Michael stares at Alexander's hand too. “Are you sure? Did you see it??”

“No, I felt it,” James says, taking his hand again. “I felt it. I’m sure of it. His finger moved. It moved. It did.” He stares at Alexander. “Come on, buddy,” he whispers. “Come on. Come back to me. I need you. Please, buddy, I need you. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.”

He squeezes Alexander’s hand.

Ever so lightly, Alexander squeezes back.

“I saw it!” Michael yells. He quickly lowers his voice. “I saw it. His hand moved. His hand moved, J!”

“Call someone,” James says, still staring at Alexander’s eyes, praying that they open. “Get someone in here! They need to see this. They need to know he’s…”

The words sound too good to be true. He’s scared to say them out loud for fear that it will break the spell and he’ll find it’s all been a dream.

Waking up.

“On it,” Michael says, wheeling away.

“Come on,” James whispers, scrutinizing Alexander’s face. “Come on.”

Alexander’s eyelids flutter.

And he starts to convulse.

******