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He shifts in his seat, feeling restless with anticipation. Although he got back from Montreal over two weeks ago, he’d been too busy working on the final edits of his and Michael’s next screenplay to see Alexander. The weeks leading up to filming were always the most chaotic, but it was even worse this time because of the protests. The film, Silent Scream, was about a transgendered teen who is driven to suicide by bullies and the lack of support from her family. It was a dramatic departure from the HEAT series, and it had elicited a passionate response from almost everyone; some people loved the idea and sung its praises, while others felt it was disrespectful and vehemently lobbied for Focus Features to drop the film. Between that and Michael’s behaviour, he was barely keeping it together and it showed: He’d lost ten pounds in the last few weeks alone.
He takes a deep breath and pushes those thoughts away, focusing on happier things and checking the time for what felt like the hundredth time.
“What’s our ETA?” he asks Carl, his driver. Carl raises his eyebrow in the rearview mirrow.
“About 15 more minutes, sir.”
James nods and tries to distract himself by jumping on Twitter. He scans through his notifications.
@James_Axton I love you.
@James_Axton Thank you for signing my copy of HEAT in Montreal! I adore you. pic.twitter.com/ATGD9t432
@James_Axton You are DISGUSTING! How DARE you think you, a 40 year old cis white male, can speak for the transgender community?!
JAMES AXTON IS A RAPIST. PROOF. problematiccelebrities.tumblr.com/post682374542 Get rid of this RAPIST, @FocusFeatures!! Do not support @JMASilentScream or @James_Axton!
@James_Axton With love from Argentina… pic.twitter.com/LkUY75s70
@James_Axton I HOPE YOU BURN IN HELL FOR WHAT YOU’RE DOING. YOU DO NOT REPRESENT US. SILENT SCREAM IS AN ABOMINATION.
@James_Axton If you go through with this, there will be consequences. You do not get to make a mockery of our struggle.
He closes Twitter.
Ten minutes later, they pull up outside Jenna’s house. Alexander is already sitting on the front step. His face lights up and he’s on his feet and racing towards the car before James can even unbuckle his seat belt.
“James!” Alexander runs into him at full force, closing his arms around his waist and burying his head into his jacket. “I missed you!”
James’ entire body relaxes. He hadn’t even realized he was tense.
“I missed you too, buddy,” he says, ruffling his hair. “I missed you too.”
Jenna walks over to the car carrying an Astro Boy back pack.
“You sure this is okay?” she asks. “I can always get a friend to babysit. I tried to get out of it, but my boss insisted that I be the one to go…”
“Of course,” James says, taking the back pack. “Go to New York. We’ll see you in two days.”
“Yeah, Aunt Jenna!” Alexander says, unhooking himself from James’ waist. “Go to New York!”
Jenna laughs. “Thank you for doing this. You’d tell me if it was too much, right?” She lowers her voice, glancing at Alexander. He is absorbed in playing with James’ fingers. “You’d tell me if I was asking too much?”
James smiles. “You worry too much. I love having him. Go kick ass at your conference. Go show them why you are the youngest editor-in-chief in the history of WomanKind magazine.”
“I’m not the youngest anymore,” Jenna says, giving him a shy smile. “Not since I turned thirty-five.”
“Irrelevant. You were the youngest when you were appointed.”
“How do you even know that?” she asks, turning a deep shade of pink.
James gives her a knowing smile. “I may have checked up on you.” His expression turns serious. “I had to know you’d take good care of him.”
She stares at him. Then she says quietly, “You love him, don’t you?”
He doesn’t answer.
“Let’s goooooo,” Alexander says, tugging on James’ hand.
Jenna laughs. “Okay, okay. I get the hint. You have my number if you need me.”
He smiles. “Of course. Go. Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.”
She smiles back and crouches down to Alexander’s level. She fixes his hair and zips up his jacket. “You be good, okay? I only want to hear a glowing report when I get back.”
Alexander grins and nods. He’s lost his other front tooth now, too. The gap is just about the most adorable thing James has ever seen.
“Promise,” he says holding out his pinky. She smiles and hooks hers around it, locking them together in a pinky promise.
“You can’t break a pinky promise,” she cautions. “Otherwise all you get for dessert for the rest of your life is BROCCOLI.”
Alexander giggles. “I like broccoli,” he points out.
She laughs and releases his finger. “Ah yes. Of course you do. I forgot who your influences are.” She casts a sidelong glance at James. He grins.
“Okay,” she says, standing up and kissing Alexander on the forehead. “I’ll see you boys in two days. I’ll call you when I land.”
James winds his arm around Alexander’s shoulder. “Have a safe trip,” he says, still smiling. Jenna gives him a brief hug.
“I will. See you soon.”
“Not a James soon!” Alexander says. They all laugh. Jenna helps him into the car as Carl puts his backpack into the boot.
“Ready?” James asks once Alexander is strapped in safely. Alexander nods.
Jenna leans in through the window. “Can’t forget this,” she says, handing him a soft toy. Alexander grabs it and hugs it to his chest. It is a stuffed Astro Boy.
“Astro!” Alexander says, rubbing his face against it as he hugs it. “We can’t leave you behind.”
James smiles as he gets in the car and puts his own seatbelt on. They wave to Jenna as the car pulls away. He turns to Alexander.
“So, buddy! Just me and you for a few days, huh? What should we do?”
Alexander’s eyes light up. He looks like he might burst out of his skin.
“EVERYTHING. Let’s do EVERYTHING.”
James sighs happily. “Sure, buddy. Whatever you want.” He pulls out his phone and scoots closer to Alexander. He flips the camera. “Smile!”
Alexander gives a wide, toothless grin. James snaps the picture of the two of them.
“Let me see!” Alexander says, reaching for it. James hands it over. “Why do you take so many pictures?” he asks, staring at the screen. James takes his phone back and tickles him. Alexander giggles.
“So I remember,” he says, opening Instagram. “So I remember all the wonderful things we do and how happy we feel.” He almost loads the picture as is, but something stops him. He looks over at Alexander, who is playing with Astro. He is mumbling something about Astro needing to save the world.
No, James thinks, cropping Alexander out of the picture before posting it on Instagram. I’m not ready to share you with the world just yet.
The sun has already begun to set by the time Carl pulls up in front of the gates. Alexander has fallen asleep. James is about to tell Carl to take them home instead when Alexander opens his eyes.
“Where are we?” he asks, yawning. Astro is still pressed against his chest.
“A secret spot,” James says, brushing the hair out of his eyes. “It’s my favourite spot in the world. Do you want to come see?”
Alexander yawns again and blinks the sleep out of his eyes, nodding.
“You sure?” James asks. “We could just go home and come up tomorrow instead if you’re feeling tired.”
Alexander opens his eyes far too wide. He keeps them like that, shaking his head.
“I’m not sleepy.”
James chuckles. Is this what happiness feels like? he thinks, staring at the wide-eyed miracle in front of him. Is this what it feels like to be truly happy?
“Okay, kid,” he says, unbuckling his seatbelt. “We’d better hurry, or we’ll miss it.”
James gets out of the car and walks around to the other side. He opens the door and unbuckles Alexander’s seatbelt, lifting him out.
“The best part,” he says, bopping him on the nose with his finger. Alexander giggles.
“Can Astro come too?”
James reaches down to retrieve Astro from the car floor. “But of course,” he says, making Astro head butt Alexander. “Astro would feel very left out if we just left him here.”
He sticks his head through the passenger window. “We won’t be long,” he says to Carl. “Thank you.”
Carl gives him a small smile. “Of course, sir,” he says, picking up a book on the passenger seat. “Take your time.”
James smiles gratefully and turns back to Alexander.
“Okay, buddy! Let’s get going!”
As they approach the clearing, Alexander slows down. He huddles against James, squeezing his hand. James looks down at him.
“What’s up, buddy? Are you tired? Do you want to go home?”
Alexander doesn’t answer. He moves closer to James, squeezing his hand even tighter. James stops.
“Alexander? Buddy? What is it?” He crouches down and tries to meet Alexander’s eyes. Alexander avoids his stare.
“Alexander?” He starts to panic. “Alexander? Can you hear me?”
Alexander doesn’t say anything, but his tiny hand squeezes even harder. James stands up, looking around for some clue about what has him so scared. Suddenly, it dawns on him.
This is the place, he thinks, hating himself for coming here. This is the place I found him.
He found me.
“Alexander,” he says, lifting him up into his arms. “It’s okay, buddy. It’s okay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I brought you here. I didn’t think. I didn’t mean to, I didn’t…”
He holds him against his hip with one arm and Alexander buries his head in his neck. With his free hand, James brushes the hair off Alexander’s face.
“We’ll go home,” he says, turning to leave. “We’ll go home and we’ll never come back.” He starts to walk away.
“Wait,” Alexander whispers. The sound makes James jump. He looks down. Alexander is staring up at him. “This is your secret spot? Your favourite spot?”
James nods. “Yeah, buddy. It is.”
Alexander winds his fingers through James’ hair. His other hand clutches Astro.
“Then it’s my favourite spot too.”
James bites his bottom lip. A drop of water hits Alexander on the face. James looks up, searching for the rainclouds. The sky is clear and brilliantly pink.
“Why are you crying?” Alexander asks.
James touches his cheeks. They are wet.
“I’ll never let anyone hurt you,” he whispers fiercely, putting Alexander down and kneeling before him. “I promise you. You are safe now. No matter where we go or what we do…You are safe with me. Always.”
Alexander keeps his hand in James’ hair. He twirls a strand around his tiny fingers.
James nods. “I will always fight for you. Remember that.”
Alexander sticks out his pinky. “Pinky swear.”
James hooks his pinky around Alexander’s outstretched one. “I pinky swear. I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. Ever.”
Alexander slides onto James’ lap. James wraps his arms around him and sits down in the dirt, not even caring that his clothes are getting dusty and ruined. Not even caring that they aren’t in the best place for the best view. He is right where he wants to be. Alexander rests his head against his chest, and they watch the sun go down.
Just before the sun completely sets, Alexander reaches into James’ pocket. James laughs.
“Whatcha doing, buddy?”
Alexander pulls out his phone and swipes his finger across a picture of his own face to unlock it.
“I want to take a picture,” he says, deftly opening the camera. “So I remember how happy I feel.”
A lump forms in James’ throat as he watches him take a picture of the city.
“Here,” Alexander says, handing back the phone. “Now we won’t forget.”
“No,” James whispers, putting it back in his pocket. “We’ll never forget.”
That night, while Alexander sleeps curled up beside him on the couch, the marathon of Astro Boy long forgotten, James gets out his phone. He opens Instagram and opens the picture Alexander took. #CityOfAngels, he types, posting it. A song he heard on the radio that morning plays in his head. One line in particular stands out:
Here our dreams aren’t made, they’re won.