Monday, 18 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Fifty-Three

So.
Here we are.
84 days.
53 posts.
83,285 words.
This is the end I feel.

I'd just like to take a moment to say an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who has stuck by me and the Axton boys for the last five months (I'm including Silent Scream). I especially want to thank you all for being patient with me when I kept disappearing into the dark and twisty place and stopped posting for days on end. I am truly sorry for that. I tried to avoid it as much as I could.

I hope you've enjoyed this journey as much as I've enjoyed sharing it with you (not counting the dark and twisty days where I just wanted it to be over so I could disappear off the face of the planet forever). Sure, most of you hated me the majority of the time and hurled abuse at me, but we all know that tears and abuse are the highest compliment to me (I'm pretty screwed up, okay. This we know). This may be the end of the Axtons, but it is not the end of me causing you pain. I like making people cry waaaaay too much to stop. I have been working on a few things, but given that my brain is pretty broken right now, it might be a while before I'm ready to share them with you all. I hope it won't be so far in the future that you've all forgotten about me. You won't, right...?

One more thing before I let you suffer for the final time (assuming you've read this far): As a writer, I thrive on knowing what people think of my words. My only goal in writing is to write something that connects with people. Every time I start writing something new, J's speech from Artifact plays through my mind. That is what I want. That is what I aim to do. And in order to do that, I need to know how people are responding to what I've written. And so with that in mind, I'd like to say an extra big THANK YOU to those people who regularly tweet, DM, message and generally abuse me over my words. Thank you @livvii_liv, @albagallego15, @collinsgod, @KarenMills_6277@iMorgana2 and @KailynBaudion (I think that's everyone...If I left you out, send me an abusive tweet and know that it was not intentional. It's late and my brain is broken.) And finally, the biggest THANK YOU goes to @cortana02 and @moon_cake1. Without these two amazing ladies, I never would have shared Silent Scream or Orange Sky. I probably wouldn't have even finished writing them without their constant abuse encouragement. I'd also like to say an extra extra special thank you and I heart you to @cortana02. You know why. I don't know what I'd do without you.

Okay. Enough is enough. Here is it. The final chapter. I hope you like it. Parts 1-52 are here if you need to get caught up. As always, thank you so, so much for reading Xo





The sunlight assaults his pupils as he steps outside. He pulls his sunglasses from the collar of his t-shirt and puts them on. He takes a few steps forward and stops. He hears him before he sees him.

“JAAAAAMES!!”

Alexander appears out of nowhere and barrels into him, engulfing him in a hug. He’s holding a melting ice cream cone.

“Grandma bought me an ice cream,” he says, letting James go. He wobbles slightly, regaining his balance. The weakness in his left side has become a permanent fixture in their lives.

Just another thing we lost, James thinks bitterly.

“I don’t really like ice cream,” he whispers, looking over his shoulder towards where James knows Elizabeth will be waiting. “I wanted a cupcake.”

James smiles. “Of course you did,” he says, ruffling Alexander’s hair. “Come on. How about we go buy the ingredients to make some when we get home?”

Alexander’s face lights up. “Yes!! Let’s go NOW!” He grabs James’ hand and tugs him towards the street. The sudden movement hurts his shoulder, but James doesn’t mind.

There are worse pains to endure.

They make their way over to the car, where Elizabeth is waiting.

“Sweetheart,” she says, opening the car door for James. “How was it?”

James shrugs and helps Alexander inside.

“Same as usual. Give me that,” he says, smiling at Alexander. He takes the ice cream cone and straightens up. “He doesn’t like ice cream,” he says to Elizabeth, trying to keep the smile in his voice. “He likes cupcakes.”

Elizabeth chuckles. “Yes. I noticed. I’m quite sure there’s not a person in LA who doesn’t know about this boy’s love for cupcakes.”

“I’ll eat it.”

James’ hand quivers.

“You already had one,” Elizabeth says, laughing.

“So? I’m forty-five, Mom, not five. I don’t need my sugar intake monitored.”

Elizabeth laughs again as Michael wheels over to them from the other side of the car.

“Actually I’d say you need it monitored now more than ever,” Elizabeth says, still laughing. “You are the textbook definition of a sugar fiend.”

Michael grins at her. She rolls her eyes and gets in the car.

“So?” Michael says, holding out his hand expectantly. “Let me have it. Or are you on Team Michael-eats-too-much-sugar?”

James hands it to him and avoids his gaze. Michael takes it and catches James’ wrist before he can leave.

“J.” The good humour has left his voice. “For God’s sake, look at me. I can’t stand this.”

James pulls his hand away. “Let’s go, Michael,” he says softly. “Mom’s waiting.”

He tries to walk away. Michael wheels into his path, deliberately bashing him in the shins.

The ice cream falls onto the pavement.

“Enough is enough, brother,” Michael says, narrowing his eyes. “I’m not getting into that car with you until you talk to me. Until you acknowledge that I exist!”

The hurt in his voice makes James look up. His stomach twists at the sight of him in that chair.

At the sight of the stub where his leg used to be.

“Michael,” James starts, but he doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. He’s been trying to find the right words for three months now. Nothing sounds right. What is he meant to say? What could he possibly say to take away all the pain he has caused?

“That is indeed my name,” Michael says, raising his eyebrow. “Are we gonna get any further than that today?”

James doesn’t answer.

“J,” Michael pleads. “Please. Talk to me. Don’t shut me out.”

James glances at the car. The windows are up, but he can still hear Alexander and Elizabeth singing along to the Frozen soundtrack. It amazes James that Alexander still likes the snow.

He hates it.

He turns back to Michael and takes a deep breath.

You promised honesty.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” he admits. “Every time I look at you, I am reminded of every mistake I made. Everything I took from you. Everything I took from Alexander.”

Michael sighs. “I thought we were past this. I thought you were done blaming yourself for things which you had no control over.”

“How can I not blame myself for this, Michael?? You nearly died! They had to cut you open and operate on your heart! Your fucking heart! And then before you’d even had a chance to recover from that, your leg—”

“Stop,” Michael says, holding up his hand. “Just stop it, J. I’m sick of this. I’m so sick of this, you have no idea. Look at me; I am still here. I didn’t die. Yet you insist on acting like I did. I’m goddamn fine, brother. My heart is good. My leg is probably worm food or cryogenically frozen for med students to dissect and add to their Frankenstein monsters, but I’m sure it’s good too. I am okay. No, look at me,” he says when James drops his gaze. “I didn’t die. My heart is still beating. So why are you treating me like a ghost?”

“Because it hurts,” James says before he has a chance to stop himself. “It hurts to look at you. It hurts to be near you.”

“Ouch, brother. So what, it’s easier to pretend I don’t exist? That eases your guilt?”

James feels a stab in his chest. “That’s not it at all!”

“Then enlighten me.” Michael folds him arms across his chest. “Because I’m done playing this game, J. I’ve lost a lot in the last fifteen months. I’m not about to lose my brother too. I didn’t fight so hard to stay alive only to have you slip away from me now. I know you’re getting counselling, and that is freaking fantastic, but you need the support of your family, J. That’s rehab one-oh-one. You can’t do this alone. And what’s more: You don’t have to. I’m here. Mom is here. Alexander is here. We’re all here, waiting for you to let us in. Waiting for you to let us help.”

James struggles to find the right words. He looks into the car. Elizabeth and Alexander are still singing. Alexander is giggling.

“How can you not blame me?” he asks, watching Alexander cover Elizabeth’s mouth with his hands as she deliberately sings the wrong lyrics. “How can you wake up every day and not hate me?”

“I didn’t say I didn’t hate you.”

James turns back to him. His eyes are alight with humour.

“I hate you all the time. I hate it when you get all control-freaky and edit a completed script for four hundred years. I hate it when I come over and you are out of coffee, or even worse, when you try to offer me instant coffee…Like why do you even have that filth in your house?? I hate it when you come over to my place and clean it while we talk. I like disorder and I like chaos. Stop trying to order me. I hate it when you give me long-ass lectures when I miss a deadline or make a typo. Seriously brother, I know how to use a semi-colon. You can stop teaching me that now. But most of all, I hate it when you shut me out and push me away. Like really, actually hate it. But as I’ve said before and I’ll say it again; you can push all you like, J. I am like the goddamn terminator. I won’t be moved. And,” his eyes glint mischievously. “I’m getting fitted for my bionic leg soon. I’ll be more terminator than ever!” He laughs.

“How can you be so okay with this?” James asks seriously. “It’s like it doesn’t affect you at all.”

Michael’s laughter fades. “It does affect me,” he says honestly. “But the way I see it, I have two choices: I can either lie in bed and wallow over a situation I cannot change, or I can get fitted with a bionic leg and use it to kick your ass up and down LA until you see how ridiculous you are being.” His grin returns. “And we both know how much I like to kick your ass.”

James almost smiles. “And you do it so well.”

Michael laughs. “He almost smiles. Progress. Come on,” he says, cocking his head towards the car. “We’d better save Mom from singing Let It Go for a fourth time.”

James watches him go, wondering how after everything he’s put him through, Michael hasn’t given up on him. Once Michael is inside the car, James puts his wheelchair in the boot.

“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Elizabeth asks, coming out to help him.

“Yes,” James says, meaning it for the first time in months. “I am.”

She smiles and gets back in the car. James follows her and slides in beside Alexander.

“Please, Uncle Michael,” Alexander is saying, leaning forward and hanging off Michael’s chair. “Pretty please?”

“Ugh,” Michael says, pretending to be disgusted. “FINE. But you get one song, kid. Make it a good one.”

Alexander grins. “Love is an open door.

Michael laughs and shakes his head. “Freaking perfect, kid,” he says, putting it on. “Total genius.”

Alexander has stopped listening. He takes James’ arm and wraps it around himself, singing along.

“Where to?” Elizabeth asks, looking at James in the rear view mirror. “Do you want me to take you boys straight home?”

Alexander stops singing. “Cupcakes!” he says, playing with James’ fingers. “You said we could make cupcakes.”

“I did,” James says, resting back against the seat. For the first time in he doesn’t know how long, he almost feels relaxed. “Can you take us to the store first?” he asks Elizabeth.

She smiles. “Of course.”

“You can help us!” Alexander exclaims, sitting up straight in anticipation. “They can, right Dad? They can come over and make cupcakes with us, can’t they?”

James’ heart swells. For the first time since they’ve been home, it feels like it used to feel. In the before.

“Of course,” James says, scooting closer to Alexander. “We can all make and eat cupcakes together.”

After all, James thinks, listening to Alexander squeal in delight at the prospect of all those cupcakes. It’s not scary when we’re together.

END


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Fifty-Two

[Parts 1-51 are here. Thank you for reading and please don't hurt me.]




“Mr Axton? James?”

James looks up. Her face settles into view. Short, silver hair. Laugh lines. Kind eyes. He blinks and pats his chair uncertainly.

“Where were you just then?”

He stares at her, still struggling to break free of images plaguing his mind.

I wasn’t a good brother. But I loved you.

“In the hospital,” he whispers. His mouth is dry. He reaches for the water beside him. A creak in his shoulder tells him he’s not up to that yet. He uses his other hand. She watches him, waiting for him to go on. She knows him well enough not to push.

“With him,” he finishes quietly, picking up the glass. “I was remembering being with him.” He lowers his gaze and stares at his hands.

“Tell me about it.”

James shifts uncomfortably in his seat. It doesn’t escape her notice.

“James,” she says gently. “It’s okay. Anything you say to me is confidential.”

James raises his eyes to meet hers. She reminds him of his mother. Caring. Warm. Attentive. “It’s not that,” he says. “It’s that I…” He hesitates. She smiles encouragingly.

“…I hate psychiatrists.”

She laughs. “I know. You’ve mentioned that a few times now. But remember; I am not a psychiatrist. I am not a psychologist. I am a counsellor. I’m not here to diagnose you or label you. I’m here to listen. To help, if I can, but mainly to listen.”

James swallows. He’d promised he’d try. For Alexander. “It feels like a nightmare. All of it. When I think about it, it feels like I’m watching a bad horror movie. Like I’m watching someone else’s life. I keep expecting to wake up and for everything to be as it was, but…” He runs his hand through his hair and lowers his voice. “There is no waking up. God, I want to wake up.”

Her expression is sympathetic. “I understand that. It’s normal to want to go back to when things were better. But you can’t go back to the before. All you can do is do your best in the after.”

“I don’t know how to live in the after,” he says without looking at her. “I don’t know how to move on from the before.”

Her voice is kind. “And that’s why you’re here. This is the how. We will navigate through this, James. What you’ve been through, what your family has been through…It’s horrific. Unimaginable. But you survived. You’re here now.”

“Some of us,” James says bitterly. “Some of us survived.”

She waits for him to continue. When he doesn’t, she changes tact.

“How is Alexander doing?”

He looks down at his feet. His latest gift from Alexander peeks through between his jeans and his shoes.

“He’s doing better, I think,” he says, staring at his Astro Boy socks. “I think his sessions are helping. He doesn’t wake up screaming as often.”

The words evoke memories he wishes he did not have. He squeezes his eyes shut and counts backwards from ten.

It’s over now, he tells himself. He’s safe now.

He’s safe.

We’re safe.

We’re safe.


“Is he still sleeping in your room?”

James nods.

“That’s probably best,” she says, writing something down on the notepad in her lap. “It will take some time for the night terrors to stop. For both of you. It’s important that you don’t try to force it. Don’t try to make him progress faster than he’s capable of. Don’t push him and don’t push yourself. You need each other right now, and that’s perfectly okay. Over time it will get easier to be apart, but for right now, I think together is exactly where you need to be.”

James manages a small smile. He likes her more with every session.

She looks at her notepad. “Do you want to talk about Michael?” she asks softly.

James tenses. He grips the arms of his chair.

“It’s okay,” she says quickly. “We don’t have to go there until you’re ready.”

James tries and fails to relax.

“I think that’s enough for today,” she says, eyeing him cautiously. “Are you going to be okay?”

He nods once. Tears prickle the corner of his eyes. He closes his eyes.

It’s over. We’re safe. It’s over.

When he opens his eyes, she’s watching him.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”

James forces himself to meet her concerned stare. “No.”

He’d promised honesty when he agreed to this.

“But I don’t think that’s something we can overcome in just ten weeks.”

Her gaze softens. “No,” she agrees. “But we will keep at it for as long as it takes.”

He releases his iron grasp on the chair and stands up. A dull ache blooms in his shoulder from all the tension. He tries to shift it into a more comfortable position, but his range of motion is limited. He rubs it instead.

“Next week?” she asks, walking James to the door.

He nods. “Yeah. Thanks, Selina. See you then.”

She smiles and holds open the door as he leaves.

******

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Fifty-One

[I'm moving to Mexico after this post. 


Thank you for not coming to my house and burning it to the ground. You won't do that, right??]



“James?” Elizabeth stands up. “James? What are you doing in here?”

James hovers in the doorway. He heart is beating much too quickly.

Michael.

“I had to see him,” James whispers. “I had to come.”

“But...The infection!” Elizabeth’s eyes are wide and terrified. “You can’t be in here! It’s too dangerous!”

James takes a tentative step inside. “I’ve been discharged. I can be here. How is he? Is he okay?”

“But Alexander! If you’re here…” The look on James’ face makes her stop. “Oh, sweetheart,” she says, hurrying over to him and pulling him into her arms. “I’m so sorry.”

“I had to see him,” James says again. His voice is strained. “Alexander understands. He’ll be okay. But I couldn’t…I couldn’t let…”

He can’t even think the words, let alone say them out loud.

“I know,” Elizabeth says, stepping back. She tries to smile. “He’ll be happy to see you.”

James walks over to Michael’s bed. The sight of him takes his breath way. Even though it’s only been a few days, the change in him is significant: he’s lost weight and his skin is ashen, making him look much older than he is. James sinks down into the chair beside the bed.

“Acute endocarditis,” Elizabeth says, sitting down beside James. “The MRSA is in his heart. The antibiotics haven’t been helping. Dr Phillips says that if they don’t get the infection under control soon, it could spread to his other organs.” She covers her mouth. “His heart…His heart is…”

She doesn’t need to finish the sentence.

Failing.



“What are they doing about it?” he asks unsteadily. “Why is he just lying here?? Shouldn’t they be doing something?? Shouldn’t they be IN here??”

“They’re doing everything they can.” She brushes the tears out of her eyes. “The infection is in his heart valves. The next step is surgery. They are trying to control it with the antibiotics before it gets to that.”

James has never heard her sound so broken.

“Heart surgery??” His throat constricts.

Elizabeth tries and fails to stifle a sob. “I can’t lose him. We can’t lose him. We can’t.”

Her words from before play in James’ mind.

Nobody is going to lose anyone.


He wants to say it to her now, to comfort her, but the words stick in his throat.

“Hey.”

Michael’s voice sends a jolt of electricity down James’ spine.

“You don’t…look…so good.” Michael tries to smile. His every word is punctuated by a laborious breath.

“Michael.” James takes his hand. “How are you feeling?”

“Peachy.” He fumbles with his oxygen mask and moves it away from his mouth.

“Hey now,” James says, fixing it. “Don’t do that, Darth. You need it.”

Michael chuckles, which quickly dissolves into a coughing spasm. James lets go of his hand and pours him a cup of water. He moves the oxygen mask long enough for Michael to take a sip of water through the straw, then he puts it back into place.

“What are...you…doing here?” Michael breathes, moving the mask. James helps him adjust it into a comfortable position. “You…shouldn’t be here. Alexander.”

“Alexander is okay,” James says, putting the cup on the table beside the bed. “He’s out of the ICU. You don’t need to worry about him.”

Michael manages a smile. “He’s a…tough…kid,” he says, struggling to catch his breath. “I knew…he’d…be alright.”

“Do you want me to call someone?” James asks, glancing towards the door. “So they can help you breathe?”

Michael shakes his head. “Fluid…in my lungs. They’ve…been draining it. They’ll be…here soon.”

“In your lungs?” James looks over at Elizabeth, who is trying not to cry. “I thought the infection was in his heart?”

“Infections in the heart often cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.” Her voice shakes. “They’ve drained it twice already, but it keeps coming back.”

“Drowning…on dry…land,” Michael says, closing his eyes. “What a…way…to…go.”

Elizabeth makes a sound like a wounded animal.

“You aren’t going anywhere,” James whispers fiercely, turning back to him. “You are going to be fine. We’re all going to be fine. Isn’t that what you’ve been saying all this time?”

Michael takes several shallow breaths before he answers. “Sometimes, brother,” he says without opening his eyes, “I’m full of…shit.”

Despite himself, James laughs. It sounds like a sob.

“You are always full of shit, Mike,” he says, leaning forward. “But occasionally you are one hundred percent correct. We are going to be fine. All of us. We’re all walking out of here together.”

Michael doesn’t say anything. James wonders if he’s fallen asleep.

“I’m sorry…I…let go,” Michael murmurs after a few minutes. “And I’m sorry…I…said…we should…take the…slope.”

“Stop it,” James says. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“I’m sorry…I…blamed you…for breaking…Mrs…Johnston’s window.”

It takes James a few moments to understand what he is talking about.

“When I was twelve?”

“And I’m sorry…for stealing…the money…you earned…at the ice cream store.”

“Michael, I worked at the ice cream store when I was fourteen. Why are you bringing it up now?”

“I shouldn’t…have…But I didn’t…spend it…on...drugs…” His breathing becomes increasingly laboured. James looks at Elizabeth nervously.

“I think we should call someone. They need to come and drain this fluid NOW.”

She nods and James stands up, reaching for the call button. Michael opens his eyes and grabs James’ wrist.

“I spent it…on…you.” His eyes are unfocussed. “I used it…on the…guitar…I said I…was given.”

“The one Mrs Johnston gave you for helping her clean out her basement? The one she didn’t want?”

“You were…going to…spend it…on us. I wanted…you…to have…something…just for…you.”

James frees his wrist. “Why are you telling me this now?” The fear in his heart tells him the answer, but he tries to ignore it. “Why now?”

“I wasn’t…a good…brother,” Michael says, struggling to catch his breath. “But…I…loved…you.”

“Michael,” James says, fighting to keep his voice steady. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you DARE say goodbye to me.”

“Alexander…needs…you.” Michael coughs. “You have to…get through…this…for him.”

“Stop it,” James pleads, feeling the familiar prickle of the tears gathering in his eyes. “Don’t talk like that. You’re going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”

Michael’s eyes roll closed. “I’m so…tired,” he whispers. “I can’t…keep…”

“Michael!” James whacks his hand onto the call button and grabs Michael by the shoulders. “Michael!”

Michael grows limp.

His laboured breathing stops.

A shrill ringing fills the room.

“Michael! MICHAEL!!”

Several people burst into the room and rush over to Michael, knocking James out of the way.

“He’s going into v-tach!”

“He’s shredding through his heart valve!”

“We need to get him into surgery NOW!”

“Call the OR!”

“Page Dr Phillips!”

“Michael! MICHAEL!! MICHAEL!!”

“Move!” Someone pushes James back, sending him spiralling to the floor. Elizabeth bends down to help him up, sobbing into her hand.

“What’s happening??” James demands, scrambling to his feet as Michael is wheeled away. “What’s going on? Where are you taking him?!”

An intern he’s never seen before appears in his line of sight.

“We’re taking him into surgery. We need to repair the damage to his heart.”

“The damage to his heart??”

“Someone will be out to speak with you when they can, but for now we need to get him into surgery. Dr Phillips is on his way.”

“Surgery, I—”

“I’m sorry,” the intern says, starting to back away. “I’m needed.” He hurries out of the room.

“Oh God,” Elizabeth whispers, barely keeping it together. “Oh my God.”

She wavers and starts to fall to the floor. Somehow James manages to catch her before she collapses. He guides her back onto the chair.

“His heart,” she sobs, gripping James’ arm for support. “Oh God, his heart.”

James tries to find the right words to say, the right words to comfort her, but he can’t.

There are none.

Instead he sits down and wraps his arm around her. She falls into him as violent sobs tear through her. He tries again to comfort her, but he doesn’t know what to say. He knows from experience that there’s nothing you can say to a parent who might lose their child. To a man who might lose his brother. To a family who might lose everything.

No words in the world can make that okay.

With nothing to say and no comfort to give, all he can do is sit there numbly, listening to her cry.

Waiting.

Hoping.

Praying.

******

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Fifty

[The end is nearly here. Prepare yourselves.
Parts 1-49 are here. Good luck...]


“Daddy.”

James opens his eyes. Alexander is still curled up against him. His eyes are closed.

“Alexander?” he whispers.

Alexander doesn’t move. James realizes he must have been dreaming. He checks the time on the clock on the wall. Eleven am. He’s been asleep for a couple of hours. His gaze falls on the table beside the bed. There’s a small pile of paper that wasn’t there before. He slides his hand away from Alexander and reaches out to pick it up, recognising it as his discharge papers. There’s a sticky note on top which says, I didn’t want to wake you. Sign them when you’re ready. He guesses it’s from Violet. He puts the papers back on the table and turns to Alexander. His eyes are moving rapidly under his closed eyelids. James wonders what he is dreaming about. His face seems peaceful, but something about the way he is holding his mouth makes James nervous. Like he is holding in a scream. James dismisses the thought. Stop being ridiculous, he tells himself, closing his eyes. He’s just dreaming. He’s okay.

He stifles a yawn and closes his eyes. The days of little to no sleep have caught up with him and he is exhausted, though he knows that once he leaves Alexander’s side he will be back to having sleepless nights. And if anything happens to Michael…

I can’t lose him, he thinks, opening his eyes. I can’t lose either of them.

Suddenly Alexander gasps and jerks awake. His wide eyes settle on James and instantly fill with tears.

“Hey,” James says, touching his cheek. “Alexander. Buddy. What’s wrong?”

Alexander clambers into James’ arms and pushes his face into James’ neck.

“Alexander? What’s wrong? Did you have a bad dream?”

“Yes,” Alexander mumbles.

James strokes his hair. “It was just a dream, buddy." Alexander’s heart pounds against his. He wishes he had listened to his instincts and woken him up earlier. “It wasn’t real.”

“You were gone,” Alexander mumbles through his tears. “I woke up and you were gone into the snow and when I tried to follow you the bad men came and I—” He dissolves into sobs.

“It’s okay, buddy. I’m here now. You’re safe now.”

“I want to go home,” Alexander sobs. “I want Uncle Michael and I want us to go home. Please can we go home, James? Please take me home.”

James feels like his heart is in his mouth. “We will soon, buddy,” he says unsteadily. “We will go home soon.”

Alexander cries harder. “Why can’t we go home now? Are we going to die? People die in hospitals! Just like Aunt Jenna! People go to hospital and then they never go home!”

“Nobody is dying,” James says, gripping Alexander tighter. “We’re going to be okay, buddy. We’re all going to be okay.”

Your promises…

“You’re leaving, aren’t you?? I heard you talking to Violet. You thought I was asleep but I wasn’t and I tried to be brave like you told me but but but—”

“Alexander.” James’ voice reflects the pain he feels. “Buddy, I—”

“You PROMISED!” Alexander’s sobs turns into shuddering breaths. “You said you wouldn’t leave me!”

“I don’t want to leave you,” James says, losing the battle against the tears building behind his eyes. “I don’t want to go.”

“Then don’t!” Alexander grips a handful of his hair. “You keep leaving me! You keep going away and leaving me all alone!”

“Alexander, I—”

“Please don’t go!” Alexander tries to steady his voice. “Please stay with me. I have bad dreams without you. I get scared without you.” He pulls back and looks James in the eye. “Daddy,” he says, trying to catch his breath. “Please. Please stay with me.”

James breaks. He tries not to look as devastated as he feels.

“Uncle Michael is very sick,” he says, wiping the tears from Alexander’s cheeks. “He needs me, buddy. He needs me to go see him.”

“But I need you.” More tears roll down his cheeks. “I need you too.”

James’ heart shatters into a million little pieces. “I know,” he says, trying not to show it. “I know. I need you too. But right now…Right now Uncle Michael needs me more.”

Alexander chokes back a sob. “Will he make you sick?”

James shakes his head. “No. But he could make you sick, so that’s why I can’t…” He can’t even say the words out loud. That’s why I can’t come back to see you.

Alexander’s lip trembles. “Is he going to get better?”

James can hardly find the words to answer.

That’s all the answer Alexander needs.

“I don’t want him to die!” More tears stream down his cheeks. “I don’t want him to go to heaven!”

James doesn’t know what to say, so instead he pulls Alexander against his chest and holds him there, terrified to let go.

“His spirit will still be with us, right?” Alexander whimpers, clinging to James. “His spirit gets to stay. That’s what you said, right?”

His words send James past the breaking point. Deep, shuddering sobs escape him, shaking the bed and releasing everything he’s kept inside all this time.

“I’m sorry,” James says, clutching Alexander like he is afraid he will disappear. “I’m sorry, buddy. I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

He repeats it over and over again until the words no longer sound like words. “I’m sorry,” he continues even after Alexander has cried himself out. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“I’ll miss you,” Alexander whispers. James can hear that he is  trying to keep his voice steady. Dry sobs continue to heave through him at irregular intervals. “I’ll miss you so much.”

“I’ll miss you too, buddy. I’ll hate being away from you.”

“I hate it more.”

James doesn’t argue, but he thinks, impossible.

“Will you give Uncle Michael a hug from me?”

James’ stomach twists. “Of course.”

“And a kiss?”

“Yes.”

Alexander is quiet for a long time. When he speaks again, his voice is full of pain and determination. “Okay.” He sounds like he is fighting back tears. “You can go. I won’t be sad.”

James wants to cry again. “It’s okay to be sad,” he says instead. “I’ll be sad too.”

“But we’ll be together again soon?”

James nods. “Sooner than soon.”

Alexander hugs him tighter. “Do you have to go right now?”

James shakes his head. “No, buddy. I can stay a little longer.”

“How long?”

“Until you move to your new room.”

“My new room?”

James is grateful that he at least has some form of good news to share. “Yes, buddy. Your new room. You’re doing better so you’re moving to a new part of the hospital.”

“Oh.” Alexander twirls a lock of James’ hair around his fingers. “Can you still come visit me there?”

James feels his muscles tense. “Yes. But only after I see Uncle Michael and I’m allowed to come back to see you.”

“But you won’t be gone forever?”

“No. It won’t be forever.”

“Do you promise?”

James swallows.

“Yes, buddy,” he says, closing his eyes and praying that he won’t be made into a liar for the second time. “I promise.”

Alexander doesn’t ask any more questions. They stay there, silently clinging to one another until the interns arrive to take Alexander into his new room, two hours later.



******

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Nine

[Parts 1-48 are here. Thank you so much for reading. I'm sorry in advance for what is coming in these final chapters. Please don't hate me.]


The rest of what Xander says is lost to the noise inside James’ head.

His heart.

The infection is in his heart.

His heart.

His…

Michael.


“I need to see him,” James says, interrupting whatever Xander is saying. “Where is he? Take me to him.”

Xander looks at him sadly. “You know you can’t go there. It’s too risky.”

“I need to see him!”

“James?” Alexander wakes up. “Why are you yelling?”

James takes several deep breaths before he answers him. “I’m fine, buddy. I’m sorry for waking you. Go back to sleep.”

Alexander tilts his head back to look at him. “You look scared,” he says, winding his hand into James’ hair. “Are you scared? Is that why you’re yelling?”

“Go back to sleep, buddy,” James says as evenly as he can. “We’ll talk about it in the morning, okay?”

Alexander yawns. “Don’t be scared,” he says, resting his head back down. “It’s not scary when we’re together.”

He is asleep again in seconds. James returns his attention to Xander.

“Please.” His voice trembles. “Please. I need to see him. He’s my brother. I can’t…” His voice cracks. “I haven’t seen him in days and now…” He swallows against the lump in his throat. “I have to see him.”

Xander runs his hand through his hair. “Look, talk to Dr Anderson and Dr Williams in the morning. They’ve left for the night, but they might agree to it. But…” He glances at Alexander. “You might need to choose between staying with your son and visiting your brother. I’m not sure you can do both.”

His words hit James like a knife to the heart.

“I’m sorry,” Xander says sincerely. “I wish I could help.” He checks Alexander’s chart and leaves.

James stares blankly ahead.

Choose.

Your son or your brother.

Choose.

What if Michael…


James stops himself from finishing the thought. Alexander mumbles something and wriggles closer. James knows he won’t cope if he has to leave him again. Neither of them will. The thought alone is enough to break his heart.

You promised him you wouldn’t leave.

You promised.

But Michael…


He wants to scream. He wants to leap out of the bed and go running through the hospital with Alexander in his arms. He wants to find Michael and take him home. Take them all home. Take them all out of this vile, evil, wretched snow and never look back.

He wants to cry.

It’s in his heart.

The antibiotic resistant bacteria is in his heart.


Alexander grips him tighter.

“James,” he murmurs in his sleep. “Don’t…”

James sinks down under the covers and curls his body around Alexander’s tiny frame. Alexander’s breath tickles his neck.

You promised you wouldn’t leave.

Michael.

You promised Alexander you wouldn’t leave.


“I don’t know what to do, buddy,” he whispers in the dark. “Tell me what to do.”

He closes his eyes, praying for a solution that will allow him to stay with Alexander and see Michael.

But there isn’t one.

He’s going to have to choose.


He doesn’t sleep at all.

By the time morning finally arrives, he is ready to storm through the hospital and tear down the walls in search of Michael. He feels on edge, like he might snap at any moment.

“Mr Axton?”

Violet’s voice makes him jump.

“Dr Anderson is here to see you.”

She moves out of the doorway to allow Dr Anderson inside. Dr Anderson smiles warmly at him.

“Mr Axton. I suspected I’d find you here.”

James stares at her smiling, happy face.

Do you not know what’s happening? he thinks. Do you not know that the world is falling apart?

Dr Anderson comes over to him. “Good morning. Can you sit up? I need to check your shoulder.” She smiles down at Alexander. “Sorry about that.”

James sits up. Alexander wakes up briefly then curls up across James’ legs and goes back to sleep.

“Michael,” James says as Dr Anderson unwraps his shoulder. “How is Michael? Can I see him?”

She doesn’t answer. She examines his shoulder, poking and prodding it gently.

“Does this hurt?” she asks, pressing on his arm. “What about this?”

“I need to see Michael,” James says, ignoring her. “What’s happening? Is he okay?”

“I have some good news for you,” Dr Anderson says after a moment, re-wrapping his shoulder and putting his arm back in the sling. “You’re being discharged.”

James blinks. “What?”

“Your shoulder is healing nicely. There’s no sign of infection, no need for any further surgery. There’s no need for you to remain a patient. Which means you can safely go visit your brother. You will need to take the necessary precautions of course, but provided you wear the gown and gloves and thoroughly wash your hands after each visit, going to see him does not pose a significant threat to your health.”

“Oh thank GOD,” James says, running his hand over his face. He looks up at her. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

She smiles, but there’s something hidden behind it that James can’t quite understand.

“I’ll get the paperwork started. You should be a free agent by nine am. Of course you’ll want to stay here with your son, so Violet can organise a parent’s room for you.”

“A parent’s room? Why can’t I…”

He realizes what he can see behind her smile.

Pity.

In his relief at being told he could see Michael, he’d temporarily forgotten what it meant for him and Alexander. It hits him like a kick in the stomach.

“Can’t I still see him too?” he asks desperately. “I’ll be wearing the gown and gloves…Can’t I still see him, too?”

Dr Anderson looks at him sadly. “That’s something you’ll have to discuss with Dr Williams. I’m sorry.” She turns to Violet. “Get that room organised, please. I’ll get started on his discharge papers.” She pats James on the arm and leaves.

James watches her go. He feels sick.

“James,” Violet says gently. “Alexander is leaving the ICU today.”

James snaps around to look at her. “What??”

“That’s what I wanted to tell you yesterday. His lungs are doing much better and he’s almost off the oxygen support. His arm is healing well and the leaked bone marrow has been cleared out of his system. He’s not ready to be discharged yet – he needs to come off the oxygen first – but he’s not a critical patient anymore. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but there’s a chance that you’ll still be allowed to see him even if you go see Michael. Dr Williams will be here soon to discuss it with you, but…Don’t give up hope.”

“He’s leaving the ICU?”

Violet nods. “He’ll be moved down to the general paediatrics ward this afternoon, and once he is off the oxygen, he’ll be discharged.”

“He’s okay?” James stares at her, almost expecting her to tell him that she made a mistake. Almost expecting more bad news. More heartache. More pain.

Violet nods again. “He’s doing more than okay, James. He’s doing well. The worst is over. For both of you.”

But not for Michael.

“Good morning,” Dr Williams says, entering the room. “It’s good to see you again, Mr Axton. Alexander missed you.”

“Is it true?” James asks, turning to him. “Is he leaving the ICU?”

Dr Williams gives Violet a chastising glance. “Yes,” he says, smiling at James. “I see Violet has told you the good news already.”

“I need to see my brother,” James says. The words come out in a rush. “If I go, can I still see Alexander? I’ll wear whatever you need me to. I’ll wear a fucking hazmat suit if you want, just please…Please say I can still see Alexander. Please.”

Dr Williams frowns. “Alexander’s lungs are improving, but he’s still on oxygen. If he contracts MRSA now, it will likely negate his progress. I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”

“Please,” James says, hearing the desperation in his voice. “Please. I just got him back. Please don’t take him from me again.”

Dr Williams picks up Alexander’s chart.

“Please,” James begs. “Please.”

Dr Williams reads the chart. “I’m sorry, Mr Axton. It would be irresponsible of me to risk exposing your son to the bacteria while his lungs are still compromised. Even though you are now at a low risk for contracting the infection, you can still carry the bacteria and transfer it to your son. Maybe in a few days when he is off the oxygen, but for right now…” He looks at James. “I’m so sorry, but if you go and see your brother you will either need to be screened again or wait until Alexander is breathing entirely on his own. Until his lungs are functioning as they should be. I hope you understand that it is for his safety.”

James looks at Alexander, who is still sleeping soundly across his legs.

“How am I supposed to explain this to him? I promised him I wouldn’t leave. I promised. And now…” He turns back to Dr Williams. “How am I supposed to leave him again??”

Dr Williams sighs. “I’m sorry,” he says again, replacing the chart. “I wish I had better news. The interns will be down in a few hours to move him down to paeds.”

He gives James a sad smile and disappears down the hallway.

“James,” Violet says after Dr Williams leaves. James looks up. “He’ll understand. He would want you to go see your brother. He will be upset, but he’ll understand. He’s a compassionate kid. He’ll be okay.”

“But I won’t be,” James says. “I won’t be okay.”

Violet sits down on the chair beside the bed. “Yes you will be. You will all be okay.”

“How can you be so sure? How can you possibly know that?”

Violet smiles. “I’ve worked here for a long time. I’ve learnt to recognise the signs. No matter what happens, you and your family will be okay. You’ll get through whatever gets thrown at you. Together.”

Alexander’s words play in his mind.

It’s not scary when we’re together.


But what about when we’re not together? James thinks bitterly. What then?

He takes a deep breath, trying to be strong. He knows Alexander will feed off his emotions. If he’s calm, maybe Alexander will be calm, too. “We got through it once. We can do it again, right?”

Violet nods. “Right. And it won’t be as long this time. Just until he is off the oxygen. Really it will probably only be two or three days.”

Two or three days has never sounded so long.

“I’ll tell him when he wakes up,” James says, trying to control his breathing. He feels like he is suffocating. “I don’t want him to wake up and find me gone.”

“That’s probably best,” Violet agrees, standing up. She walks over to the door. “I really hope your brother is okay,” she says, pausing in the doorway.

James doesn’t take his eyes off Alexander. “Thank you.”

He hears the door close.

He slides down into the bed and pulls Alexander into his arms. He closes his eyes, committing the moment to his memory.

He’ll need it to get through the coming days.

******

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Eight

[As always, parts 1-47 are here. We're rapidly approaching the end now. Brace yourselves.]



It’s dark by the time Alexander wakes up again. He yawns and sits up, looking around the room in a panic.

“James?”

“I’m right here, buddy,” James says beside him. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”

Alexander turns towards him. His face breaks into a smile.

“Oh,” he says, lying back down. “I thought it was a dream again.”

“Again?”

He feels Alexander nod. “I tried to sleep a lot when you were gone. So we could be together in my dreams.”

James sighs and closes his eyes. “Well we’re together now,” he says, rubbing Alexander’s back. “I’m sorry I had to leave you. I didn’t want to.”

Alexander twirls the ends of James’ hair. “I know,” he says, wriggling closer to him. He rests his head against James’ chest. “Is Uncle Michael better now? Can he come and see me? Can we all go home together?”

The peace James had been feeling dissolves and is replaced by a knot of fear and anxiety.

“He’s not better yet,” he says quietly. “But he will be soon and then we’ll all go home. We’ll go home soon.”

“A James soon?”

James doesn’t answer. He doesn’t have an answer to give. There’s a knock on the door, saving him from trying to find one.

“Dinner,” a new nurse says, coming inside. He turns on the light and sets down two trays on the table beside Alexander’s bed. James tries to extract himself from Alexander’s hold.

“No,” Alexander pleads, holding onto him. “Don’t go!”

“I’m not leaving,” James says, hugging him. “I just need to move so you can eat your dinner. I’ll still be in here with you.”

Alexander looks uncertain.

“It’s okay, buddy,” James says, brushing back his fringe. “I’ll lie down with you again after you have dinner, okay?”

Alexander reluctantly lets go. James climbs out of bed.

“Violet told me you were the bravest kid she’d ever met,” the new nurse says, smiling. He adjusts the bed so that Alexander is sitting upright. “She said that you were her favourite patient.”

Alexander’s face brightens. “Really?”

The nurse nods and moves the table closer to Alexander so he can eat. “Yep. She also said you loved cupcakes, so…” He puts a cupcake down on Alexander’s tray. Alexander reaches for it.

“How about you eat your veggies first?” James says, laughing as he takes the plastic wrap off Alexander’s vegetable pasta. Alexander sighs and picks up his fork.

“This one is yours, Mr Axton,” the nurse says, handing James the second tray. “Violet let the downstairs staff know that you were here.”

James smiles and takes it gratefully. He’s barely eaten in four days.

He couldn’t.

“Hey!” Alexander says through a mouthful of pasta. “Your name is Alexander, too”

The nurse laughs and looks down at his name badge. “Yes it is. Alexander is the best name, right? But everyone calls me Xander. People only call me Alexander when I’m in trouble.”

Alexander looks thoughtful. “People call me Alex, but I like Alexander. The way James says it.”

Xander smiles. “Do you want me to call you Alex or Alexander?”

Alexander returns his attention to his food. “Whichever you want.”

Xander laughs and picks up his chart and checks the monitors.

“Well Alexander,” he says after a few minutes, returning the chart to its place, “I’ll be back to check on you later, okay?”

Alexander nods. He hasn’t taken his eyes off the cupcake.

Xander smiles and starts to leave.

“Wait,” James says, putting his untouched tray on the table and following Xander to the door. He glances at Alexander. He’s stopped eating.

“Eat your pasta, buddy,” he says. “I need to talk to Xander. I’ll just be out in the hallway.”

Alexander puts down his fork. He looks between James and Xander. “You’re not leaving?”

James shakes his head. “No, buddy. I’m not leaving. I’ll stay where you can see me, okay?”

Alexander chews his lower lip. “Okay.”

“Violet was right,” Xander says, opening the door. “You are a very brave kid.”

Xander and James go out into the hallway. James stays in Alexander’s line of sight.

“How is he doing?” he asks in a low voice. “Is he okay?”

Xander nods. “Dr Williams will go through the details with you tomorrow, but he is doing well. His heart rate, blood pressure and O
2 levels are all good. He's stable. Kids are resilient. They bounce back quickly.”

“Okay,” James says, breathing out heavily. “Alright.” He peers into Alexander’s room. He’s resumed working through his pasta. “My brother,” James says, returning his focus to Xander. “I’m not allowed to see him because—”

“He has MRSA,” Xander says, nodding. “Violet briefed me on the situation. You want me to call down and get an update?”

“Yes please. I need to know how he’s doing.”

“Sure. Anything else I can help with?”

“No,” James says. “But thank you.”

“I’ll do it as soon as I’ve checked on my other patients. I’ll be back with an update when I can.”

“Thank you,” James says, going back into Alexander’s room. Alexander visibly relaxes as he walks through the door.

“Can I eat my cupcake now?” he asks as James sits down. James checks his pasta. He’s eaten most of it.

“Sure,” he says, moving his pasta out of the way. Alexander picks up the cupcake.

“Oh.” His face falls. “It’s chocolate.”

James laughs and unwraps his own pasta. “I’ll tell you what. When we go home I’ll buy you all the vanilla cupcakes you can eat.”

“No,” Alexander says, taking a bite of his chocolate cupcake. “Let’s make our own cupcakes. Those are better.”

An image of the lopsided, burnt cupcakes floats to the surface of James’ mind. “Oh buddy,” he says, chuckling. “Those cupcakes were burnt.”

Alexander shrugs. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, licking the frosting off his fingers. “We made them together. Everything is better when we’re together.”

“Yes it is,” James says, watching him awkwardly eat his cupcake with his left hand. “Everything is better when I’m with you.”



Alexander is asleep in James’ arms by the time Xander comes back. As soon as he enters the room, James knows something is very, very wrong.

“What is it?? What happened??”

Xander meets his panicked stare. “Mr Axton, your brother…He’s been moved to the ICU. The MRSA…” He looks at James sympathetically. “The infection has spread to his heart.”

******

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Seven

[Parts 1-46 are here. Thank you for reading xo]

“He was asleep when I left,” Violet says as the elevator doors open. “I didn’t tell him you were coming. I thought you might want to surprise him.”

James can’t find the words to answer her. He can’t find the words to express what he is feeling.

They reach Alexander’s room. Violet stops in front of the door and looks at James.

“He’s missed you in a way that I’ve ever seen a child miss their parent before. He didn’t cry for you. He just sat and waited for you. He wasn’t interested in doing anything except waiting. Watching the door. Hoping you’d walk through it.”

James puts his hand on the door knob.

“I’m glad you’re back together,” Violet says softly. “He was breaking my heart.” She pauses. “You both were.”

James opens the door.

The sight of Alexander lying there close enough to touch takes his breath away. He takes a few hesitant steps into the room, terrified that he is dreaming and daylight will soon arrive to rip Alexander away from him.

It’s happened many times before.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” Violet says. “I’m done for the day but I will see you both tomorrow.” She smiles and closes the door.

James stands in the middle of the room. He is afraid to move. To breathe. To blink. To do anything which may wake him from this dream.

Alexander stirs. James notices that he is wearing the nasal cannula. He was wearing the oxygen mask in the last video Violet made.

Alexander’s eyes open. He blinks against the afternoon sunlight and turns towards James. He smiles.

“James,” he says softly. “I knew you’d come.”

James takes a few more steps towards him.

“Alexander."

Alexander looks at him sleepily. “Read me a story,” he says curling over onto his side. “Read me a story before I wake up.”

“Before you wake up?”

Alexander closes his eyes. “I hate waking up. You disappear when I wake up.”

James swallows. He’s not convinced that he’s not dreaming. He wants to touch him. He needs to touch him. He needs to know that he is more than a mirage conjured up by his desperate subconscious.

He crosses the floor, stopping at the foot of Alexander’s bed. Alexander yawns and rubs his eyes with his fist.

“Can we go ice skating today?” he asks, struggling to open his eyes. “And build a snowman?”

James tries to find his voice. He forces his legs to take him to the chair beside Alexander’s bed. He sits down. Alexander yawns again.

“Or maybe we can go home today,” he says, snuggling down under the covers. “I like it when we go home.”

James’ hand hovers in the space between them.

Please don’t let it be a dream.


He touches Alexander’s hand.

He touches

Alexander’s

hand.

“I can feel you,” he whispers. “You’re here. You’re real. You’re here.”

Alexander smiles. “Of course I’m real, silly.”

James squeezes his hand. “I missed you so much, buddy,” he whispers, blinking away the mist in his eyes. “I missed you more than I can say.”

Alexander looks at their hands. “Do you have to go?” His voice is soft. Tentative. Like he is afraid that speaking too loud will break the spell and James will disappear. “Do I have to wake up? Can’t I just sleep forever?”

James half laughs and half sobs. “Look at me,” he says, squeezing his hand. “Look at me, buddy. You aren’t asleep. You aren’t dreaming.”

Alexander’s eyes widen. He sits up on his knees and pulls his hand away from James. He reaches out and runs his hand down the side of James’ face and into his hair. He twirls a lock of James’ hair around his finger. His lower lip trembles.

“Are you really real?” he whispers. “Are you really here?”

James nods. “Yes.”

Alexander scrutinizes him like he is trying to decide if he can believe him or not. Suddenly he launches himself into James arms. He knocks into James’ shoulder, but James hardly feels it. He can’t feel anything but Alexander in his arms.

Back where he should be.

“Daddy,” Alexander sobs, winding his fingers into James’ hair. “You’re here. You’re really here. Don’t go. Don’t leave me again. Please don’t leave me again.”

James holds him as tight as he dares. “I won’t,” he says, feeling Alexander’s tears slide down his neck. “I’m staying right here.”

Alexander wriggles closer to James, disconnecting the heart rate monitor from his finger and making it squeal. The door opens and a nurse rushes in.

“What happened?? Is—” She stops when she sees James and Alexander. She shoots James a disapproving look and comes over to the bed.

“You need to lie down,” she says, trying to pry Alexander away from James. “Let go.”

Alexander grips James tighter and shakes his head. James bites his tongue to stop himself for telling her to get her fucking hands off him. The nurse glares at James and reattaches the heart rate monitor to Alexander’s finger.

“He can’t be tugging on his drip and putting stress on his arm,” she says sternly. “He’ll hurt himself.”

James looks down at Alexander. “She’s right, buddy,” he says, even though he already hates this new, unnamed nurse. “You need to lie down. I’ll still be here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Alexander sniffs and refuses to let go.

“If you upset him too much I will have to ask you to leave,” the nurse says brusquely.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” Alexander screams, burrowing further into James’ arms. “GO AWAY!”

“Excuse me, but—”

“GO!” Alexander loosens his hold on James enough to turn around and face the nurse. “Go away,” he says with more venom than James knew he was capable of. “I don’t like you.”

The nurse puffs out her chest. “Well it’s not my job to be liked. It’s my job to make sure you are safe.”

“James will keep me safe,” he says, glaring at her.

The nurse looks at James as if to say control your child. James doesn’t trust himself to speak, for fear that the string of expletives swimming around inside his head will burst from his lips the second he opens his mouth.

“Is everything okay in here?” Violet asks, peeking in. She’s changed out of her scrubs and is carrying a handbag. She looks over at the nurse, who is red in the face. She reminds James of a raging bull.

“This man needs to leave,” the nurse says, spinning around to face Violet. “He is upsetting my patient!”

“No YOU’RE upsetting me!” Alexander yells.

Violet looks between the three of them. “What’s the problem, Trina?”

The raging nurse – Trina – narrows her eyes. “The boy is going to pull out his IV and his cannula if he keeps trashing about. He’s already pulled off his heart rate monitor and done God knows what to his arm!”

Violet comes into the room. “Why don’t you go check on your other patients for a moment,” she says, glancing at James. “I’ll handle this.”

Trina’s nostrils flare and she puts her hands on her hips. “This is my patient,” she says, scowling at Violet. “I won’t be told to leave.”

Violet smiles sweetly. “You’re new here,” she says without a hint of condescension. “One of our hospital’s philosophies is that a happy patient is a healthy patient. The boy hasn’t seen his father in four days. I’m not so sure that coming in here and demanding he leave is the best thing for your patient.”

Trina blinks. Her face turns even redder and she storms out of the room without another word. Violet blows out a long breath.

“Wow,” she says, shaking her head. She looks at James and Alexander. “I’m so sorry about that. She’s old school, you know. She only started here yesterday and there’s already been so many complaints…” She shakes her head again. “I shouldn’t be telling you that. I can speak to the head nurse about switching her off your service if you’d like.”

James nods. “Yes please.”

“Violet,” Alexander says. His voice has changed. It is full of wonder. “My daddy is here.”

Violet laughs and picks up Alexander’s chart. “I can see that,” she says, smiling as she checks his monitors and writes something down. “It’s pretty great, huh?”

Alexander nods. His hand is still in James’ hair. Violet puts the chart back.

“You do need to lie down, Alex,” she says, coming over to them. “Or sit up. But you can’t stay where you are. You’ll pull out your Frankenstein tubes.”

Alexander giggles and looks up at James. “Violet calls me Frankenstein. She says I’m a monster!”

“You are a monster,” Violet says, plumping Alexander’s pillows. “Now come on. Lie back so I can make sure all your tubes are okay, okay?”

Alexander takes a deep breath and reluctantly lets go of James long enough to get back into bed. He grabs James’ hand as soon as his head hits the pillow. Violet smiles as she checks Alexander’s IV, nasal cannula and his arm. James watches silently. His arms feel empty.

“Can I sit next to him?” he asks, mentally measuring the width of the bed. “If I’m careful?”

Alexander’s face lights up. “Please, Violet?” he begs. “Please?”

Violet looks at the bed thoughtfully. “I can’t see why not…”

James is already halfway into the bed before she finishes the sentence. Alexander practically dives on top of him, resting his head against James’ chest and wrapping his unbroken arm around James’ waist.

“This is the best day ever,” he says, closing his eyes. “I never want it to end.”

A lump forms in the back of James’ throat. Violet checks that everything is where is should be before turning to James.

“I’ll let the head nurse know you’re here. You can stay as you were before. Although…” She smiles. “Maybe I’ll leave that for Dr Williams to tell you tomorrow. No don’t panic,” she says as James’ face falls. “It’s good news. You’ll like it. Now I have to go, but I’ll have someone else take over for me tonight.” She pauses. “Someone besides Trina.”

“Someone nicer,” Alexander says from James’ chest. Both Violet and James chuckle.

James breathes out. “Thank you,” he says softly. “For everything.”

Violet straightens up. “It’s my absolute pleasure. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She leaves, closing the door behind her.

Alexander burrows closer to James. “If I close my eyes, will you still be here when I open them?”

James runs his fingers through Alexander’s hair. “Of course, buddy. I’m not leaving you.”

“Do you promise?”

James doesn’t hesitate. “I promise.”


There’s nowhere in the world he’d rather be.

******

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Six

[Parts 1-45 are here. Thank you so much for reading Xo]


“How’s Michael?” James asks when Elizabeth comes to visit him.

She sits down heavily beside his bed. “He’s okay, I think. It’s hard to tell with him. He claims he’s not in any pain and that he feels alright, but…”

“He’s a liar,” James finishes.

Elizabeth sighs. “Unfortunately yes when it comes to things like this. I keep trying to tell him that the doctors can’t help if they don’t know there’s a problem, but…” She shakes her head. “They’re watching him closely. They know he isn’t thrilled about being on painkillers and isn’t going to admit to being in pain.”

“Are the new antibiotics working?”

“Too soon to tell. It’s only been a day.”

James bites the inside of his cheek. All this waiting is agony.

“How about you?” Elizabeth asks. “How are you doing? It’s day four today. They might have your results back.”

“I’m going out of my mind,” he says honestly, staring out into the hallway through the open door. Someone runs past. “The videos help a little, but this waiting, not knowing what’s happening, not being allowed to see Alexander or Michael…”

“It’s for the best,” Elizabeth says. “You can’t see Alexander until you’ve been cleared and visiting Michael is too risky for you right now. If you don’t already have the bacteria going there could expose you and they will have to do your tests again before you can see Alexander. The only reason I’m even allowed to visit you is because I wear the protective clothing in Michael’s room. Gown, gloves, scrub cap…And even with all that and being at a low risk for contracting MRSA, I’m not allowed to see Alexander either. They are doing their best to keep him safe.”

“I know,” James says quietly. “I understand. But that doesn’t make it any easier. It seems like every time I think things can’t get any worse…They do.”

Elizabeth puts her hand over his. “I know it’s hard, sweetheart. I know. But remember…It’s always darkest before the dawn. You can’t have the sun without a rainy day. These are just the rainy days. You’ll be back in the sun before you know it. I know you will. You just have to have faith.”

“Yeah,” James says bitterly. “Faith is all we need.”

Another person runs past the doorway. James sits up, craning his neck to see what’s happening.

“Where are they going?” For some inexplicable reason, dread fills the pit of his stomach.

“Who?” Elizabeth turns around as a third person runs past.

“Room 209!” the woman yells as she flies past. “Page Dr Phillips!”

Elizabeth realizes a split second before James does.

“That’s Michael’s room.” She knocks her seat over as she leaps up and races out the door. James is close behind her and together they run down the hall.

“Stop,” Violet growls, appearing out of nowhere and grabbing James by the arm as he reaches Michael’s room, stopping him from going inside. “If you go in there we have to test you again. If you go in there, the clock restarts.”

“Let go of me!” James yells, pulling away. “That’s my brother in there!”

Violet lets him go but blocks his path. “Mr Axton,” she says, holding up her hands in a gesture that says stop. “James. You don’t want to do this. You don’t want to spend another five days away from Alexander. Away from your son.”

The sound of his name is enough to give James pause. He looks past Violet into Michael’s room. A team of nurses and interns are swarming around Michael, who appears to be struggling to breathe. His heart rate monitor is beeping so rapidly that there’s barely a gap between each beep.

“Michael,” James whispers. “Oh God, Michael.”

“You can’t help him by going in there,” Violet says, lowering her hands. “And chances are the nurses will tell you to leave anyway. Stay here. Stay with me. Your mom is with him. He’s not alone.”

James feels his resolve splinter and crack as he watches Elizabeth hurriedly tug on the protective gear shoved at her by one of the interns. The thought of having to spend another five agonising days without Alexander keeps him in place.

“What’s happening?” James asks, trying to hear what’s been said above the squeal of the heart monitor. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Tachycardia,” Violet says, peering inside. “His heart is beating too fast. They will give him something to slow it down.”

As she says that, Thomas pulls a syringe from a drawer and turns towards Michael. Moments later the beeps on the heart monitor begin to slow down.

“His heartrate is returning to normal,” Violet says beside James. “They’re giving him oxygen to help him breathe.”

James watches as Thomas puts an oxygen mask over Michael’s face. Michael grabs it gratefully and holds it over his mouth and nose. Dr Phillips pushes his way into the room. James strains to hear.

“Mr Axton,” he says to Michael. “You gave us a bit of a scare. How are you feeling?”

James can’t hear Michael’s answer, but by the look on Elizabeth’s face, he has a pretty clear idea of what he said.

Dr Phillips frowns. “I somehow doubt that. You had something called tachycardia. It’s a heart arrhythmia which makes your heart beat too quickly. We gave you a beta-blocker to slow your heartbeat to a normal rate, but it won’t prevent it from happening again. We need to run some tests to find out what is causing the arrhythmia so we can treat it.”

Elizabeth whispers something James can’t hear. Dr Phillips turns to her. She says something else. James can just make out the word please. Dr Phillips glances between her and Michael.

“It’s…It’s possible that the MRSA infection has spread to your heart,” he says to Michael. “But I don’t want you to worry. If it has, we’ve caught it early and will treat it as aggressively as we can.”

Elizabeth covers her mouth with her hand. She looks like she’s crying.

“We’re booking you in for an echo later today. A nurse will be in to draw some blood samples throughout the day. The echo will allow us to see your heart with an ultrasound and give us a clear picture of what we are dealing with. The blood tests will help us rule out other causes.”

Elizabeth hangs her head in her hands. Dr Phillips stands up. He says something James can’t hear and puts his hand on her shoulder. He turns to Michael and says something else James can’t hear. Michael nods. Dr Phillips leaves.

“Please,” James says, rushing over to him as he takes off his gown and gloves. “Is he going to be okay?”

Dr Phillips looks up. “Mr Axton.” He sounds surprised. “You shouldn’t be down here.”

“Is he going to be okay?!” James demands.

Dr Phillips glances at Violet. “We’ll know more after the tests,” he says, returning his gaze to James. “I’ll let you know as soon as we know something. I’m sorry I can’t tell you more.” He turns and leaves, hurrying down the hall.

James wants to scream.

Every time I think things can’t get any worse…They do.

He stares into Michael’s room, desperately wanting to go inside and be with his brother. With his mom. With Alexander.

Alexander.

He whips around to face Violet. The realization hits him hard enough to knock the air from his lungs.

“Why are you down here?? Is Alexander okay?? Is he alright? Did something happen??”

Violet gives him a small, broken smile. “I was on my way to see you. It’s the end of my shift, but I wanted to be there when Dr Anderson told you. She’s probably in your room right now, looking for you.”

“Tell me what?? What happened? Is Alexander okay??”

Violet’s smile widens slightly. “Why don’t you go upstairs and ask him for yourself?”

“What?”

“James…Your test results came back. You’re in the clear. You both are, actually. You don’t have MRSA. You can go upstairs. You can go see your son.”

James stares at her, unsure if he heard correctly.

“What?” he repeats.

“There you are,” Dr Anderson says, coming over to them. “I’ve been looking for you. What are you doing out of bed? Never mind; I wanted to talk about your test results.”

James turns to her, expecting her to say you have MRSA and can’t see Alexander until it’s been treated.

Instead she says, “Based on the look on Violet’s face, I’d say she already told you. Your tests came back clear: you don’t have MRSA. I’ve checked with Dr Williams; neither does Alexander. You can see him.”

James feels weak. “What?”

“You can go see him,” Dr Anderson repeats. “Right now if you want.”

James looks into Michael’s room, feeling torn. Michael and Elizabeth are talking quietly. They haven’t see him.

“Now?” he whispers.

Dr Anderson nods. “Yes. Now. Violet will take you up if you’d like.”

You can’t go in there and you can’t help him. He’d want you to go see Alexander. He’d understand.


“Okay,” he says, turning to Violet. His voice sounds strange. Too high. A combination of excitement and terror. “Take me to see my son.”

******