He sits in Jenna’s hospital room, watching her breathe. Her lungs rise and fall steadily, beating out a slow rhythm. He fingers Detective Oliver’s card.
It’s been twenty-five hours.
There’s been no word.
He had managed to convince the police that he could control himself, so they’d allowed him and Michael to re-join the search party. He had been there between 5am and 4pm, until he was permanently banned for punching the coffee-drinking officer in the stomach for suggesting to a nearby volunteer that maybe Alexander had deliberately run away to escape from those shitty excuses for movies. He almost didn’t leave despite the threat of being arrested if he refused, but Michael promised to stay and continue the search. To ensure that nobody rested until Alexander was home. As much as it killed James to leave, he felt some small degree of comfort knowing that Michael was still there. It was the next best thing to being there himself.
He checks his phone obsessively, reading Michael’s hourly text message updates which tell him nothing has been found, waiting for a phone call from the police, hoping for ransom demands, hoping for any kind of indication that Alexander had been kidnapped and not…
He makes a strangled sound and shakes his head, dispelling the thought before it even forms. No, he thinks. I’d know. I’d feel it. He’s still alive. He is alive.
He looks up. One of the young nurses – he thinks her name might be Lexi – stands in the doorway.
“Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water? Something to eat?”
He shakes his head and turns away. Food won’t fill the empty space inside him.
“Has she woken up at all?” he asks, watching Jenna’s ribs rise and fall with each breath.
“Briefly,” maybe-Lexi says. “The detectives came by to talk to her, but I don’t think they got much sense out of her. But I think…”
The tone of her voice makes him turn around.
She lowers her eyes. “I think she was asking for you. I think she wanted to see you.”
A lump forms in his throat, making it difficult to breathe. He turns back to Jenna.
Maybe-Lexi nods. “Yeah. When she wakes up again, I’ll tell her you came by. I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear it.”
She walks over to Jenna and checks the monitors. She mumbles to herself and picks up the chart on the end of the bed, writing something down. Something catches James’ eye as she replaces the chart. There’s a black tattoo on the inside of her left wrist.
But maybe it’s better this way.
His breath hitches in his throat.
“Are you okay?” maybe-Lexi asks, turning to him. She follows his line of sight.
“Oh.” She looks embarrassed. “I’m-I’m sorry,” she says, hiding her arm behind her back. “I promise you I didn’t…I was assigned here; I didn’t deliberately…” She turns a deep shade of a pink and ducks her head. “I’ll go,” she says, starting to leave. “I’ll swap with someone, I’ll…”
He catches her wrist as she tries to hurry past him, stopping her.
“It’s okay,” he says quietly. “You don’t have to go.”
I don’t want to be alone.
He turns her wrist around, examining her tattoo. It’s easier to focus on it than face the helpless inside. “Why did you get this done?” he asks, running his finger over the words.
He looks up at her. She can’t be more than 27 years old. She looks a little afraid, like she has been caught doing something bad. She stares at him with wide, green eyes, and somehow, he knows. He knows she is not one of the transient hangers-on who got a meaningless tattoo one drunken night or who got one as a fashion statement. She is not one of those who think the words might bring her closer to him or give her a place in his bed. She understands him.
He feels like crying. Like breaking down and telling her everything that has happened just to get it out of him. Just to ease the pressure mounting inside his chest at the thought of sitting there doing nothing while Alexander…
He can’t bring himself to finish the thought.
“Because…” She smiles uncertainly. He doesn’t take his eyes off her. “That movie…Heat…It spoke to me. I connected with it in a way that I’ve never connected with anything before. And I wanted to hold onto that feeling. I wanted to remind myself of it when things got tough.” She chews the inside of her cheek. He lets go of her wrist. She looks like she might leave so his next question comes out in a rush. He wants to keep her talking. The silence is too much to bear.
“What does it make you feel?”
She smiles. “It makes me feel hope. The movie, those characters, what they overcame…It gave me hope. Gives me hope. Reminds me that no matter how dark things seem, there’s always a light shining through. It just takes faith to see it.”
James breathes out slowly. “Yeah, well…” He looks at Jenna. There’s a thick white bandage wrapped around her head and a cluster of small bruises along her jaw. Her right arm is in a cast, broken in three places. “Where’s the light in this?” he asks. “Where is the light?”
Maybe-Lexi crouches down in front of him. She reaches for his hand, hesitating for a moment before gently placing her hand over his.
“All you need is faith,” she says softly. He turns to her. Even through the mist clouding his vision, he can see the sincerity in her eyes. “Remember that, James. And if you can’t have faith in yourself…Know that we have faith in you.” She reaches under her scrubs and pulls out her necklace. It is the same necklace worn by Alice, the main character in Heat. The symbol of everything she lost and everything she gained. Maybe-Lexi lets it fall into place, dangling around her neck. “All of us.”
He stares at it. A twisted loop of metal, like a ribbon that has fallen and curled over itself.
“You’re putting your faith in the wrong man,” he says, unable to take his eyes off the necklace.
“No I’m not. You’ll get through this. You will. I believe in you.” She squeezes his hand. “I believe in you, James. Always.”
He stares at their hands.
He falls in and out of consciousness in Jenna’s hospital room. The staff tried to tell him that visiting hours were over a few hours ago, but they left him alone after he flatly refused to leave. They threatened to call security, but either pity or his status meant that they didn’t follow through. Unable to search and not willing to go home, he can’t leave Jenna’s side. Not until she opens her eyes and tells him what happened. Tells him what happened to Alexander.
At about midnight maybe-Lexi comes in and offers him a blanket.
“Thank you,” he whispers hoarsely, taking it.
She looks at him sadly and leaves. He wraps the blanket around his shoulders and shifts in his seat, pulling out his phone to check his messages. He has a few more update texts from Michael, a text from his mom telling him she’s cutting her trip to France short and catching the next flight back to LA, one from Kira letting him know that she’s cancelled all the events he had scheduled that week, and a missed call from Detective Oliver.
She left a voicemail.
His heart skips several beats.
He plays it, pressing his phone against his ear so hard that it hurts.
“Mr Axton. Detective Oliver. I’m returning your calls…We have no leads yet. The forensic team is combing over the crime scene. We will let you know as soon as we have something to go on.” There’s a long pause. Then, “I’m sorry.”
The line clicks off. He pulls his phone away from his face and replays the message, stupidly hoping that it will have somehow changed. That Detective Oliver will tell him that they’ve found Alexander and he is safe and happy and eating a cupcake at the station and can you come pick him up right now, please?
The message hasn’t changed.
He rips the phone away from his ear and hurls it at the wall. It snaps into several pieces. The sound is magnified a thousand times in the quiet of the room, and maybe-Lexi comes racing in.
“I heard a crash; what happ…” She sees the mess on the floor.
“I’ll pick it up,” he says tightly. She looks like she wants to comment, but she doesn’t. She leaves.
He stands up and walks over to where the pieces litter the floor. He swears under his breath and bends over to pick them up.
He straightens up.
“James?” she repeats.
He strides over to her. “I’m here,” he says. “I’m here.”
Her eyes roam around the room. She seems to be having trouble focusing. He places his hand on her cheek. Her eyes settle on him.
“Alexander…” she mumbles. “Alexander.”
He feels like he’s been stabbed in the chest. “He’s not…” He can barely choke out the end of the sentence. “…Here.”
She swallows and mumbles something incoherent. He leans forward.
“What?” he whispers. “What did you say?”
“They took him,” she mumbles. ‘’They told me…They told me to tell you…”
Her eyes lose focus and start to slide closed. James puts his hands on her shoulders, shaking her a little. His heart feels like it is going to beat right out of his chest.
“To tell me what? Who did? Did you see them? Do you know who they are??”
Jenna’s head lolls to the side. His grip on her shoulders tightens.
“Jenna. Jenna! What did they tell you? What did you see?? What did they do to Alexander?? Jenna!”
Maybe-Lexi appears in the doorway. She sees him standing there, gripping Jenna hard enough to hurt her.
He is a man possessed.
“Mr Axton. Mr Axton! James! Let her go!” Maybe-Lexi comes rushing into the room and tries to pull him away. He shrugs her off him.
“Jenna!” he repeats. “Where is Alexander?? Who took him? What do they want you tell me?? Jenna!”
Her gaze finally settles on him. She licks her dry, cracked lips. He has to strain to hear her over the sound of his own ragged breaths.
“They told me to tell you…It begins.”