He doesn’t go home.
He goes straight to the police station and demands to see Detectives Oliver and Roberts.
“They’re in a meeting,” the officer behind the desk says. “Can I take a message??”
James sways on his feet. He grips the desk to remain upright. “No,” he says. “I need to see them. NOW.”
“I can see what I can do, but I think –”
“NO!” James roars. “I need to see them NOW!!”
Several police officers stand up, thumbing the guns in their holsters.
“Is there a problem?” one asks, walking over.
“I need to see Detective Oliver and Detective Roberts,” James says, doing his best to remain calm.
“What is this about?” the officer asks. “Maybe I can help you.”
James shakes his head. It makes it that much harder to remain standing. “No. I need to see them. I need to see…I need…Alexander...” He starts to back away. The room is too bright. It is hurting his eyes. Everything hurts.
“Are you okay?” the officer asks. “Have you taken anything? Hey! Sir! Have you taken any drugs?”
James takes several steps back and trips. He scrambles back onto his feet, scared that if he stays on the floor for even a minute the darkness will overcome him and steal away more of his time.
“Jesus,” the officer says. “I think we’ve got a tweaker. Somebody help me get this guy in a cell before he hurts himself or somebody else.”
James backs away. He looks like a caged animal, ready to turn savage at any moment.
“Easy there, buddy,” the officer says, reaching for his gun. He wraps his fingers around it. Just in case. “Easy there. Nobody is going to hurt you. Why don’t you just come and sit down for a minute…?”
James watches him fingering his gun. He tries harder to explain, but the world is hazy and his words refuse to co-operate.
“I need to see the detectives,” he says. “They’re going to, they’re going to kill him!”
“Woah,” the officer says, tightening his hold on his gun. “Who’s killing who??”
James takes a step forward, intending to explain, intending to make the officer see.
The officer views it as a threat.
He whips out his gun and aims it at James’ chest. “Stay right there!” he yells. “Keep your hands where I can see them!”
James turns and runs.
He runs until every inch of his body screams for him to stop. He runs until his heart burns and all the oxygen is stolen from his lungs. He runs without seeing, without breathing, without stopping. He runs until his legs refuse to move any longer and he falls to the ground. He lies there on the dirty, freezing concrete, staring up at the afternoon sky. No one seems to notice him. Homeless people are rampant in LA. He's just another nameless, faceless homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk. He watches a hawk dive for something, catching some unsuspecting prey and ending its life.
Okay, he thinks, feeling his heart struggle to keep beating. I’m ready. I won’t live through losing Alexander. So I’m ready. I’m ready to die.
He closes his eyes.
The sounds of the city drift away.
When he wakes up, it is dark.
He sits up. His limbs creak in protest, but they move. He takes a deep breath, works up the strength to stand, and starts the long walk home.
He sits in the dark, leaning against the wall. He rolls a bottle in his hand and stares at the guitar on his wall.
“You hold it like this,” he says, standing behind Alexander and adjusting his grip. “See? Left hand on the fret board. Right hand over the sound hole.”
“What’s so funny?” James asks, walking around and sitting on the stool in front of Alexander.
“Sound hole is a silly name!”
James chuckles. “Yeah, I guess it is. Now, what shall I teach you to play?”
Alexander grins. “Wonderwall! Oasis!”
James laughs. “Oh, buddy, I was thinking more like Hot Cross Buns or Mary Had A Little Lamb.”
“Those are little kid songs,” Alexander says, pouting.
James leans forward. “Alexander, I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this…But you are a little kid.”
“I’m seven,” Alexander says, frowning. “And I’ll be eight soon. December nineteen, seven days before you turn a hundred!”
“One hundred?” James asks, barely concealing his laughter. “I thought it was two.”
A tear splashes onto the bottle in his hand. He wipes his face.
“Happy birthday, buddy,” he whispers.
The lights turn on.
He blinks against the sudden brightness, feeling his pupils expand and contract. Michael stands in the doorway, peering into the room. When he spots James, his body visibly relaxes.
“Oh thank GOD,” he breathes, walking over to him. “Mom’s been going crazy! She’s just gone back to check the hospital again. We’ve been looking everywhere for you! Where the hell have you been?? What have you…” He stops, seeing the bottle in James’ hand.
“J…” he says slowly. “What are you doing?”
James looks down at the bottle. He found it hidden in the bottom of Michael’s desk drawer.
“Does it work?” he asks, not looking up. “Does it take the pain away? Does it make the hurt stop?”
Michael takes another couple of steps towards him. He takes a moment to answer.
“Yes,” he says finally. “It works. But only for a little while. And then it makes you feel worse than ever.”
James laughs bitterly. “There is no worse than this,” he says. “There is no worse than this.”
He opens the bottle.
“You don’t want to do this, brother,” Michael says, holding out his hand, silently pleading for the bottle. “This isn’t you.”
James laughs again. It is the sound of a broken man. “Yeah? And how would you even know who I am anymore? How would you even know?”
“James, I –”
“No,” James says, cutting him off. “You got to check out when things got hard. You got to fall apart and push everyone anyone away. So why can’t I, Michael? Why can’t I??”
James raises the bottle to his lips. A sickly sweet scent fills the air.
James looks around.
“What’s that smell?” he says, more to himself than to Michael. “What is that?”
“What smell?” Michael asks, looking around too. “I can’t smell anything.”
“It’s like…” James sniffs the air. “No, not cupcakes,” he mumbles to himself. “Vanilla.” The realization dawns on him. He looks down and reads the label on the bottle.
He hurls it at the wall.
It shatters, filling the room with the scent of vanilla cupcakes that have soured in the sun. That have gone soft and rotten in his hands.
Just like everything always does.
He starts gasping for breath. The smell is choking him. He claws at his own face, driven insane by grief and fear.
“J! J! James! JAMES!” Michael rushes over to him and grabs his hands, stopping him from hurting himself. He slides his hands under his brother’s frail body and lifts him from the ground, trying not to dwell on just how easy it is to do so. He carries him out of the room, taking him away from the scent of everything he has lost.