Saturday, 28 February 2015

Orange Sky: Part Five

[If you need to get caught up, you can do it here. Thank you for reading Xo]




Three days later, Friday finally arrives. Alexander is up before the sun has even risen.

“James,” he whispers, wriggling closer to him. Since that day in Dr Tate’s office, he’s been in James’ bed every night. It’s made them both much happier. “James,” he whispers again. “Are you awake?”

James opens one eye. “No,” he mumbles.

Alexander giggles. “Then how did you say no?”

James tries not to smile. He opens his eyes long enough to check the time. It’s just after four.

“Go back to sleep,” he says, closing his eyes and putting his arm around Alexander.

Alexander lies still. James starts to drift off. They are due to leave at six am. The alarm is set for five.

“James?”

This time he can’t help it. He smiles. “Hmmm?”

“Is it time to go yet?”

“Not yet, kid. The alarm will go off, okay? Go back to sleep.”

Alexander falls silent. James can feel his heart beating against his arm.

“James?” Alexander whispers about two minutes later. “What if the alarm doesn’t work?”

“It’s working, Alexander.”

“Yeah, but what if it’s not?”

James can feel him playing with his hair. “It is. And it’s going to go off really soon and we’ll get up and get ready to go. Okay?”

Alexander wriggles under the covers restlessly. James peeks through his eyelashes. Alexander has screwed up his face and shut his eyes.

“What are you doing?” he asks, laughing. 

“I’m trying to go back to sleep.”

James laughs again and looks at the time. Four thirty.

“Come on, buddy,” he says, sitting up. “We can get a head start.”

Alexander sits up too. His face is full of hope. “Are we going now? Are we going to the really real snow?”

James ruffles his hair. It falls over his eyes. He needs a haircut.

“Yes, buddy. We’re going to the really real snow.”

Alexander’s entire being radiates joy as he throws his arms around James.

“Yessss!” he squeals. “Yes!”

He is out of James’ arms and out of the bed in a flash.

“Wait,” James calls, but it’s too late. He can hear him running into the living room.

“UNCLE MICHAEL WAKE UP IT’S TIME TO GO TO THE SNOW!!”

James chuckles and gets out of bed. He goes straight into the kitchen to make Michael some coffee. It’s the least he can do.

“Morning, brother,” Michael says, shuffling over to the kitchen bench in a long black bathrobe. His eyes aren’t even fully opened yet. James can hear Alexander doing something in his bedroom. Michael eyes the coffee machine as James puts in a double shot.

“Triple,” he says, yawning. James raises his eyebrow. “Don’t judge me,” Michael says, yawning again. “The sun isn’t even awake yet.”

James shakes his head and adds a third shot, smiling. Alexander bounds into the kitchen wearing every jacket he owns that is not already packed in the suitcase, what looks like several pairs of long pants, three beanies and two pairs of woolly gloves. He grins at James.

“I’m ready!”

James laughs out loud. “Oh, buddy.What are you wearing?”

Alexander looks down at himself. “You said the snow was cold.” He looks back at James. “You always tell me to wear a jacket and gloves and a beanie when it’s cold. If it’s extra cold…I need extra clothes. Right?”

James laughs again. “Come on kid,” he says holding out his hand. “Let’s go get you appropriately dressed.”

“But I am dressed,” Alexander says, pouting.

“I see that. I said appropriately.”

Alexander groans and takes his hand. The coffee machine dings.

“Sorry, Mike,” James says over his shoulder as he is being dragged out of the kitchen. “You’ll have to finish up.”

“It’s fine,” Michael calls, yawning again. “I make better coffee than you anyway.”



An hour later Alexander is wearing only one set of clothes, the suitcases are packed and the car is loaded. James turns around in the passenger seat. Alexander is sitting in the back seat with Astro, watching Michael lock the front door.

“You ready, buddy?” James asks. Alexander turns to him and nods, grinning.

“Will you build a snowman with me?” he asks.

“Of course.”

“And can we go ice skating?”

“Definitely.”

“And can we have a snowball fight and make snow angels and will you teach me how to snowboard?”

James reaches over to brush the hair out of Alexander’s eyes.

“We can do all of those things and more. We’ll be there for a whole week. We can do whatever you want to do.”

“Anything?”

James smiles. “Anything.”

“You kids ready?” Michael asks, getting into the car and putting on his seat belt.

“YES!” James and Alexander yell in unison.

Michael laughs. “Okay then. Let’s go to the snow.”




About six hours into the road trip, James takes over driving. Alexander is asleep in the backseat, having exhausted himself after singing along to the entire Frozen soundtrack three times in a row.

“He seems a lot happier,” Michael says, careful not to wake him. James glances at Alexander in the rear view mirror. He’s snoring.

“He is,” James says, returning his eyes to the road. “It’s almost like having him back, you know? The real him.”

Michael taps his fingers on his knee, drumming out a pattern. “Has he been having any nightmares? I haven’t heard any screaming. From either of you.”

“Some. Less. It’s a lot easier to calm him down when I’m already right there. Most of the time I can wake him up before the dream gets too bad. Once he starts to whimper, I know what’s coming.”

Michael sighs and stops tapping. “Poor kid,” he says, looking back at Alexander. “It’s not fair, you know? It’s not fucking fair.”

James takes a deep breath. “Yeah. None of this is fair.”

It’s a few minutes before Michael speaks again.

“And what about you?” he asks, looking at James. “How are you doing?”

James’ hands automatically tighten on the steering wheel. He hopes Michael doesn’t notice.

“My concern is Alexander,” he says, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the road. “I don’t matter. Not right now.”

Michael shakes his head. “You gotta take care of yourself too, bro. You won’t be able to help him if you don’t.”

James self-consciously rubs the bruise on his jaw. It hasn’t quite faded. He can feel Michael’s eyes on him. He drops his hand.

“I’m fine.”

“J…”

“I’m said I’m fine, okay? Can we please not talk about it this week?” He turns to Michael, trying to soften his voice. “Please, Michael. Let’s just have fun this week. Alexander needs some fun. We all do.”

Michael looks like he wants to argue, but he doesn’t. “Alright, brother. Alright. I said I would support your decisions, so I will.”

James smiles. “Thank you. So what did your physio say?”

Michael’s face falls a little. “No snowboarding. No skiing. No ice skating.”

“Damn.”

Michael sighs. “Yeah.” He goes back to drumming out a rhythm on his leg. “Ah well. It could be worse. I could still be in that God-awful wheelchair.”

James chuckles. “True. I still can’t believe you said fuck you to the surgeons who spent dozens of hours reconstructing you a new femur out of titanium.”

Michael shrugs. “They said I’d never walk again. Like fuck you, yes I will. Don’t tell me what I can’t do.”

James shakes his head. “Lucky they liked your fighting spirit or you may have needed to find a new surgical team.”

Michael grins. “It’s all part of my charm, brother. It’s all part of my charm.”

“James?”

James glances at the backseat. Alexander is rubbing his eyes with his fist. “Are we at the snow yet?”

He smiles. “No, buddy. Not yet. We’re about halfway there. We’re going to stop and get something to eat soon. You hungry?”

Alexander nods. “Can we have cupcakes?”

Both James and Michael laugh. “Sure we can, but how about we eat some real food first? Maybe some noodles or Subway?”

“Subway,” Alexander says, yawning. “Then cupcakes.”

“I’ve never met a kid who loves cupcakes as much as you do, Alex,” Michael says, still laughing.

“They make me happy,” Alexander says, looking out the window. “Like a hug for my tummy.”

“Okay then,” James says, looking out for an exit off the freeway. “Subway then cupcakes it is. Sounds pretty great to me.”



Five hours later, after they have eaten and Alexander has fallen asleep again, James sees it. The first glimpse of a snow-capped mountain. The sun is setting behind it, giving it an almost orange glow. He glances over at Michael. He’s asleep, too. He looks up at Alexander’s peaceful face in the rear view mirror.

“Alexander,” he whispers. Beside him, Michael stirs. James clears his throat. Part of him doesn’t want Michael to wake up for this. He wants it to be his moment and his moment alone. His moment with his boy.

“Alexander,” he whispers again. Alexander murmurs something James can’t understand and shifts in his sleep.

“Wake up, buddy,” James whispers. “Wake up.”

Michael stirs again. James falls silent.

“James?”

James’ entire body lights up. “Hey, buddy,” he whispers. “Look out the window.”

Alexander sits up straight and pushes the hair out of his eyes. He rubs a clear circle in the condensation that has gathered on the window.

“Can you see it? James asks, trying hard to keep his eyes on the road. “Do you see it?”

“See what?” Alexander asks. “I don’t…” He takes a tiny breath in. “Is that it?” he whispers. “Is that the snow?”

James grins. “Yeah, buddy. That’s the snow. That’s where we’ll be really soon.”

Alexander stares at the mountains like they are the most amazing things he has ever seen. He presses his face against the glass, peering through the fog. James can’t help it. He pulls over to the side of the road and switches off the engine.

“Are we there??” Alexander asks, turning to him. “Are we at the snow?”

James laughs and gets out of the car. The ground is wet and covered in dirty slush like it has snowed then rained very recently. He knows they’ll need to put the snow chains on soon. He goes around to Alexander’s side of the car and opens the door. Michael is still asleep.

“No, this isn’t the snow. It does snow here sometimes, but not right now. But…” He grabs Alexander’s beanie and woolly gloves from the pouch in the back of Michael’s seat. “Here,” he says, giving them to Alexander. “Put these on.”

Alexander does and James helps him out of the car.

“You’ll see better this way,” James says, lifting up Alexander and putting him on his shoulders. His breath comes out in vaporous puffs. His un-gloved fingers go stiff and numb in the freezing air. He doesn’t mind.

“I can see it,” Alexander whispers. “I can see the snow.”

“The really real snow,” James says. “Your first look.”

Alexander breathes out in awe.

James wants to run up those mountains with Alexander on his neck. He wants to lie down in the snow and make a snow angel next to his boy.

He wants the Heavens to open up and pour snow on them right then and there.

Something

floats 

down 

from 

the 

sky.

James stares at it.

No, he thinks. No way.


He reaches out his hand. Catches it. It melts in his palm.

“Alexander,” he breathes. “Alexander, it’s…”

“…Snowing,” Alexander finishes. James takes him off his shoulders. He doesn’t want to miss this.

The snowflakes float down slowly at first. Insubstantial balls of fluff drifting down from the orange sky. Alexander holds out his palms, catching snowflakes with his fuzzy gloves and giggling. James watches him, feeling something beyond love swelling inside his chest. Something more. Love is too small a word to describe this, he thinks, watching Alexander giggle in delight as a snowflake lands on his nose. It’s not enough.

“James! James!” Alexander squeals,jumping as he tries to catch more snowflakes. “James!! It’s snowing! It’s really snowing! With real snowflakes!!”

James laughs and scoops him into his arms. “This is just the beginning, buddy. It’s only going to get better.”

Alexander’s eyes shine. “It is? You promise?”

Despite a small voice at the back of his mind telling him not to do it, he nods. “Yes, buddy. I promise. This is going to be the best week ever.”

Alexander giggles and throws his arms around James’s neck, burying his face in his hair.

“I love you James,” he says, still giggling. “You’re the best daddy ever.”

A lump forms in James’ throat. He tries to swallow past it.

He can’t.

He holds Alexander even tighter.

“I love you too, Alexander,” he says, closing his eyes. “More than I can even say.”

Alexander giggles again and moves his head back to look up at the sky. A snowflake lands on his eyelid. James laughs and brushes it away.

“Here, try this,” he says, putting Alexander down. James tilts his head back and opens his mouth, sticking out his tongue. A snowflake lands on it.

“Caught one!” he says, grinning. “You try.”

Alexander laughs and jumps around, opening and closing his mouth as he tries to catch the snowflakes drifting through the icy air. James smiles and turns away, quietly opening the car door. Michael is still snoring. James takes his phone out of the centre console and closes the door, careful not to wake him. He turns back to Alexander. The snow has started to fall faster now. James knows they have to get going before it gets too heavy. But first…He opens his camera app and switches to video. He records Alexander leaping through the air and whooping every time a snowflake lands on his tongue. He never wants to forget this moment. Ever.

He knows they probably look insane to anyone driving past, but he doesn’t care. He’s found his happiness. He’s found the thing that makes him glad to be alive.

The person.

The child.

Alexander.

He thought he was broken. He thought he was damaged beyond repair. First his stepfather, then a lifetime of personal demons...But when Alexander hugs him, it’s like all his broken pieces stick back together. It’s like he was never even broken to begin with.

Watching him playing in the barely-there snow and giggling like it’s the best day of his life, James finds the word he was searching for earlier. The word greater than love.

Whole.

Alexander makes him whole.

******

Friday, 27 February 2015

Orange Sky: Part Four

[Parts 1-3 can be found here. Thank you so much for reading Xo]


“Thank you so much,” James says into the phone. “That’s perfect. We’ll see you on Friday. You too. Okay. Bye.”

He hangs up and smiles at Michael, who is leaning against the kitchen bench. “We’re all set! We’re booked to arrive at Vail on Friday night. We’ll stay for a week and come home the following Saturday.”

“Sounds great!” Michael says, grinning. “I have a physio appointment next Wednesday. I’ll call them and reschedule. You better reschedule Alexander’s next appointment with Dr Tate, too.”

James’ smile falters. “Oh. Yeah. About that…”

Michael’s smile fades. “Oh, J. What did you do? You didn’t hit him, did you?”

“What? No, why would I…” He stops. Michael knows him too well. “No, I didn’t hit him, as much as I wanted to. But I did pull Alexander out of therapy.”

Michael pales. “You did what?”

James prepares himself for an argument. He won’t back down on this. He won’t.

“Think about it, Mike,” he says, leaning across the bench towards him. “We were okay. We were happy. He was happy. Then Dr Tate insisted on all these changes and set Alexander back four hundred steps. It is even worse than it was at the beginning because he needs me and I’m not there. How am I supposed to just stand by and watch him hurt?? How am I supposed to be the one hurting him??”

“You aren’t hurting him, James, you’re helping him.”

James bangs on the table with his fist. Michael jumps. “Yeah?? Say that while you watch him beg me if he can sleep in my room because he’s had a nightmare and I tell him no. Tell me that after you’ve heard him say over and over again that he doesn’t want to go to some fucking sleepover and yet I force him to go and leave him there! Tell me how that is not hurting him!”

He knows he’s getting too upset, but he can’t help it. He takes his hands off the bench and grips the stool he is sitting on instead.

“Dr Tate said –”

“I don’t give a FUCK what Dr Tate said!” His voice is louder than he means it to be. “I’m done listening to him! He doesn’t know my kid! I know my kid. I am through letting some jackass who refuses to listen to me tell me how to raise my child. Alexander is my child. My responsibility. I get to decide what’s best for him. I make the rules.”

Michael shakes his head. “James, I know you’re trying to do what’s best for him, but Dr Tate is trained in things like this. Maybe –”

“Who says doctors know everything?” James snaps, cutting him off. “Doctors used to endorse cigarettes! They used to tell pregnant women it was okay to drink! Doctors aren’t God, Michael. They can be wrong.”

Michael doesn’t argue.

James tries to calm down. “Look,” he says after a few minutes. “We tried it the doctor’s way. We did everything we were told. Alexander was in that office twice a week for over a year. And what’s changed? Nothing. We’re right back where we started.”

“Maybe if you try a different doctor. You know, get a second opinion.”

James shakes his head. “No. I’m done with doctors. From now on, we get through this ourselves. Me. Alexander.” He meets Michael’s eyes. “You.” The anger leaves his voice. “I need you with me on this, Michael. Alexander needs you too. He can’t lose anyone else.” In his minds’ eye, James sees Alexander sobbing on the side of the road, asking him why everyone leaves him. The weight of the memory is too much to bear.

“Please, Michael,” he says, clasping in hands in front of him in an effort to stop them from trembling. It doesn’t help. “Don’t fight me on this. You always say you have faith in me, so have faith in me. Have faith in this family. We can get through this together. We don’t need anyone else. We are enough. Together, we are enough.”

Michael stares at him. James holds his breath.

Please, he prays silently. Please.


“Okay,” Michael says after a few moments. “Alright. I will support whatever decisions you make, J. Nobody knows Alexander better than you. If you think this is the best way to help him, then I am with you. One hundred percent.”

James barely breathes. “Yeah?”

Michael nods. “Of course. The only reason I was pushing you to follow Dr Tate’s advice was because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know how else to help. I thought Dr Tate would help Alexander the way my doctors helped me. You know. In rehab. They pushed me to do a lot of things I didn’t want to do, but in the end I was grateful for it. It helped me. I thought it would be the same for Alex. For you. But this…” He sighs and shakes his head. “Honestly, it’s been killing me to see you two like this. To hear you both screaming at night again. To watch how hard it is for you to be away from him. For him to be away from you. You two need each other. You do. And if Dr Tate can’t see that…Well he’s a fucking idiot.”

James almost smiles. “Right? The man is a moron. A borderline brain dead MORON.”

“Exactly,” Michael agrees, nodding. “Exactly.”

James does smile then. He feels like a weight has been lifted.

“Whatever you need,” Michael says seriously. “Just say the word.”

“Thank you,” James says. “I just…I think we should let him work through this in his own time. No more pushing. No more arbitrary rules.”

Michael nods. “No more pushing. No more dumbass rules. If you want to stay together at night, I won’t try to stop you. If you want to take him to and from school yourself, I won’t discourage you. You’ll never hear the words but Dr Tate said leave my lips again. I am with you on every decision you make.”

“Thank you,” James says again. “Thank you.”

Michael smiles. “So when do we leave?” he asks, changing the subject.

James grins. He can’t help it. The image of Alexander’s excited face hasn’t faded from his mind.

“Friday morning. I figure we’ll drive. It’s only twelve hours away.”

“Road trip,” Michael says, mirroring James’ grin. “Perfect. Have you told Alexander yet?”

James shakes his head. “No, not yet. I will when he comes home from school. This is going to be so great, Mike. I think it’s exactly what we need. We need some fun. Some laughter.”

“Some snowboarding and snowflakes,” Michael says, chuckling.

“Hot chocolate and snowmen. Ice skating. Snowball fights. Snow angels. We need to forget about the rest of the world for a few days. We need to get away. I’ve already spoken to Kira. They can run things here while we’re gone.”

Michael straightens up and picks up his cane, which is resting underneath the kitchen bench.

“Well,” he says, still smiling. “I’d better get to work so I don’t leave an insane amount for the team to do while we’re away.”

James eyes the cane. “Are you going to be okay at the snow with your leg? I didn’t even think. “I’m sorry.”

Michael nods. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll check with my physio when I reschedule my appointment, but I’m sure that as long as I take it easy, I’ll be okay.”

“No snowboarding, then.”

Michael raises his eyebrow. “What’s the matter, brother? Afraid to get shown up in front your kid?”

James rolls his eyes and stands up. “I don’t know what kind of memories you think you have, brother, but I’ve always been the better snow boarder. Always.”

“You are either a liar or completely insane. I’m not sure which is better.”

“Oh yeah?” James takes off his slippers and runs a little, gliding down the hallway in his socks. He turns around and grins at Michael, who rolls his eyes.

“Oh, real nice. Tease the cripple. Are you going to go kick some puppies later, too?”

“Perhaps,” James says, laughing as they walk downstairs together. He almost feels like his old self again. He checks the time on his phone. It’s nearly two pm. He’ll be leaving to pick up Alexander in half an hour.

“Should I tell him in the car or wait for him to get home?” he asks absently.

Michael knows exactly what he’s talking about. “Wait for him to come home. I want to see the look on his face.”

James chuckles. “I understand that. Seeing him happy is pretty much the greatest feeling on earth.”


******

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Orange Sky: Part Three

[If you need to catch up, you can do it here. Thank you so much for reading Xo]


In the car on the way home, James looks in the rear view mirror to find Alexander staring at his drawing. His bottom lip is quivering.

“Alexander? Are you okay?”

Alexander raises his eyes. They are filled with tears.

“Are you going to die too?” he whispers. “Everyone dies, right? No one lives forever. Are you going to die, too?”

James’ knuckles turn white against his grip on the steering wheel. He pulls over to the side of the road and cuts the engine. It’s a fairly deserted road. No one seems to notice.

He gets out of the car and walks around to Alexander’s door. He opens it and takes off Alexander’s seat belt, lifting him up. He carries him away from the road and puts him down on ground, kneeling before him.

“Why would you ask me that?” he asks, fighting back tears himself. “Why would you think I’m going to die?”

“Everyone leaves me,” Alexander says, biting his trembling lip. “My mommy died and my daddy didn’t want me and my Aunt Jenna…” He chokes back a sob and meets James’ eyes. “Why does everyone have to go?”

“Alexander…” James starts, but he doesn’t even know what to say. He stares at his brave, amazing child who at the age of nine has lost more people and been through more than many people do in their entire lives.

“I’m not going to die,” he says finally, gripping Alexander’s arms. “I’m not leaving you. I’ll be with you forever.”

“You don’t know that,” Alexander says, shaking his head and crying freely now. “You don’t know.”

“Alexander, I –”

“It’s you,” Alexander sobs, pushing the hair out of his face. “In my dream. It starts as Aunt Jenna but then she turns into you and and and –” His sentence is cut off by his sobs.

All the blood drains from James’ body. He wants to kill that therapist. Rip him apart with his bare hands. Scatter his ashes and bury his heart.

Instead, he wraps his arms around Alexander and holds him close. “It’s just a dream,” he says softly. “It’s not real. It’s just a bad dream.”

Alexander shakes.

Or maybe James is the one shaking.

He can’t tell.

“You can’t die,” Alexander sobs into James’ neck, winding his fingers into his hair. “You can’t go.”

James decides then and there to never go back to Dr Tate. To work through things themselves. Together. Just him and Alexander.

As it should be.

“You won’t lose me,” he whispers. “We won’t lose each other, okay? We won’t.”

Alexander sniffs. “Do you promise?”

James falters. He hasn’t made a promise since…

“Do you promise?” Alexander asks again.

He has no choice.

“Yes, Alexander,” he says quietly. “I promise.”

He prays that this is a promise he can keep.

Alexander burrows further into James’ arms and James holds him until he stops crying. Then, once he has calmed down enough, James helps him back into the car, puts on his seatbelt, and starts the long journey back home.






Alexander is asleep by the time James pulls into the driveway. Michael’s car is gone. Part of James is relieved. He doesn’t want to explain to Michael why Alexander won’t be going back to Dr Tate. Not yet.

He cuts off the engine and gets out of the car. He walks over to Alexander’s side and unbuckles him, lifting him into his arms. Alexander murmurs something incoherent and goes back to sleep. He’s still holding Astro. He hasn’t been without Astro since that night. He even takes him to school, hidden in his back pack.

Dr Tate tried to stop him from doing that, too.

James kicks the door shut with more force than necessary and locks the car. He walks to the front door and skilfully manages to unlock it and go inside without putting Alexander down. He goes straight to Alexander’s bedroom and gently puts him down on the bed. He checks the time. It’s only five pm. He knows he really shouldn’t let Alexander sleep in the afternoon, but he makes no move to wake him. Instead, he pulls off Alexander’s shoe. The movement wakes him up.

“Hey buddy,” James whispers. “It’s alright. You can sleep.”

“Is it bed time?” he asks groggily. James shakes his head and takes off his other shoe.

“No. It’s not. But if you’re tired, you can sleep.”

Alexander yawns and struggles to fully open his eyes. He can’t.

“Will you stay with me?” he asks, allowing his eyes to slide closed. James is fairly sure he’s asleep again already, but he answers anyway.

“Of course,” he whispers, taking off his own shoes and crawling onto the bed. He drapes his arm around Alexander, who automatically snuggles closer to him, even in his sleep. James holds him close, feeling his heart beat.

“Always.”

He starts to count Alexander’s heart beats, but he is asleep before he even reaches ten.



He wakes up to the sound of screaming.

This time, there is no confusion about where it is coming from.

“Alexander,” he says, lightly shaking his shoulder. He tries to keep the panic out of his voice. “Alexander. Wake up. Wake up, buddy. It’s just a dream. You’re safe. It’s just a dream.”

Alexander gasps and sits up. He looks around the room.

“James?”

“I’m here, buddy,” James says, sitting up beside him. “It’s okay. I’m here.”

Alexander dissolves into tears and flings himself into James’ arms.

“It’s okay,” James whispers, wishing he could say something better, wishing that he could do something, hating himself for being so inadequate, for being so useless that he can’t even help his own child when –

Stop it, he tells himself harshly. Just stop it. Now is not the time.

“It’s okay,” he murmurs again, resting back against the headboard with Alexander still in his arms. “You’re safe. You’re home. You’re safe.”

Fragments of the first few months after Alexander came home play in his mind. Waking up to the sound of screams every single night. To wet sheets and a hysterical child. They had just gotten past that. They had just begun to put their lives back together. He feels a rage so strong and so dangerous growing inside him that it almost scares him. He feels wild. He feels violent.

He stuffs the feeling back down.

There will be time for that later.

Alexander’s sobs dissipate into hiccups. He sticks his fingers in his mouth, fingering his lip. He sniffs. James closes his eyes.

“Do you want to tell me?” He feels Alexander shake his head.

“Do you want to go back to sleep?”

Alexander shakes his head again. “I’m scared to close my eyes,” he whispers.

James flinches like he’s been slapped. He opens his eyes. “Okay, he says softly. “Okay.” He checks the time again. It’s just after 9pm.

“How about we order some pizza and watch a movie?”

Alexander takes his fingers out of his mouth and nods.

“Can we watch Frozen?”

James rubs his back and rests his cheek on the top of Alexander’s head. “Of course, buddy. We can watch whatever you’d like.”



“Is snow cold?” Alexander asks, taking a bite of pizza and watching the movie.

James chuckles. “Of course it is. It’s freezing. You’ve never been to the snow?”

Alexander shakes his head. He’s calmed down, but James can still see the shadow behind his eyes. He’s not the bright, happy boy he once was. His innocence has been stolen.

The thought makes James want to punch something. Someone.

“Do you want to go to the snow?” he asks, pushing it away.

Alexander stops mid-chew. His mouth drops open. He turns to James.

“The real snow?” he asks through a mouthful of pizza. “With snowmen and ice skating and snowflakes?”

The look on his face makes James want to go out and wrestle a storm cloud into his living room and make it snow right then and there.

“Yes,” he says, smiling. “The real snow. With snowmen and ice skating and snowflakes.”

Alexander swallows his mouthful of pizza and puts the half eaten slice down on his plate. He puts the plate beside him on the couch.

“Really?” His eyes are wide and hopeful. “Really really?”

James pulls him into a hug, grateful to see even a glimmer of the happy and excitable child he once knew. “Really. Let’s go to the snow.”

Alexander starts to giggle. Then he starts to laugh. He wraps his arms around James and buries his face in his hair.

“Today??” His breath tickles James’ ear. “Can we go right now??”

James laughs. “Not today, no. It’s nearly eleven o’clock at night! I’ll make the plans tomorrow. We’ll go and stay for a few days. I’ll teach you how to snowboard.”

“And build a snowman!”

“Who’s building a snowman?” Michael asks, putting his keys on the table.

Alexander beams. “We’re going to the snow! The real snow! With snowmen and snowflakes and snowboards and ice skating!!”

“Really!” Michael looks at James. “When did you plan this?”

James looks at Alexander’s happy face – the first real happy face he’s seen since Dr Tate’s idiotic changes – and beams too.

“I haven’t yet. Going to make the plans tomorrow. Alexander can take a few days off school. We can take a few days off work. You in?”

Michael smiles. He can’t help it. All the smiling is contagious.

“The chance to show Alexander how much better I am at snowboarding than you are? You bet I’m in. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

James grins. For the first time in weeks, he feels it again. The thing he thought he had lost.

Happiness.




******

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Orange Sky: Part Two

[Part One can be found here. Thank you so much for reading Xo]



“It’s okay, Alexander,” Dr Tate says. “Go on.”

Alexander looks at James. James gives him a small smile. “It’s okay, buddy,” he says, squeezing a homemade stress ball he spotted on the table when they arrived. “It’s alright.”

Alexander swallows and hugs Astro.

“It’s the same every time,” he whispers, staring straight ahead. “I’m asleep in my room. The doorbell rings. It wakes me up. I go to see who it is. Aunt Jenna opens the door, and it’s a policeman.” He hugs Astro tighter. “He…” He drops his chin to his chest and falls silent.

“If we know what the dream is about, we can help take the fear away,” Dr Tate says gently. “What does the policeman do?”

Alexander shakes his head.

“Alexander…”

“Enough,” James says, crushing the stress ball in his fist. “He doesn’t want to say any more.”

Dr Tate takes a measured breath in and turns his attention to James.

“Mr Axton. May I see you privately for a moment?” He turns back to Alexander and pushes a stack of paper and a box of crayons towards him. “Alexander, you can draw me a picture while I’m gone.”

“James,” Alexander says.

“What?” Dr Tate says.

“I want to draw a picture for James.”

Dr Tate smiles. “Of course. Draw a picture for James. We’ll just be behind that glass.” He points to a mirror behind them.

“Like in the movies?”

Dr Tate chuckles. “Yes. Like in the movies. If you need us, just walk up to the glass and say so. We’ll come straight back.”

Alexander looks to James.

“I’ll be just next door,” James says, brushing the hair out of Alexander’s eyes. “I’ll be able to see you through the glass. Just like the movies. Okay?”

Alexander hesitates, then reaches for the crayons. Dr Tate clears his throat. James stands up and follows him into the next room.

“Mr Axton,” Dr Tate starts when the door closes.

“You’re pushing him too hard,” James says, cutting him off. “You are expecting too much.”

Dr Tate sighs. “I’m hardly pushing at all,” he says, watching Alexander through the glass. “Look, until Alexander faces his fears and owns them, they will continue to control him.”

James squeezes the stress ball. “No you look,” he says, working to keep the anger out of his voice. “You’re meant to be the best child psychologist in California. We travel over an hour each way to get here. But so far all I’ve seen you do is push my kid to breaking point and take away the things that are actually helping him.”

Dr Tate turns towards him. “I’ve taken away his crutches,” he says, meeting James’ cold glare. “That is necessary for Alexander to move on from what happened to him. He has to learn to be independent again.”

James laughs humourlessly. “Yes because all nine year olds are independent.”

“That’s not what I meant. Alexander is afraid to be away from you. He defers to you every time I ask him a question. He looks to you in every situation.”

“That’s called parenting!”

“No,” Dr Tate says calmly, “that’s called co-dependence. And it’s not healthy. If you want Alexander to start dealing with what happened, and I mean really working through it so he can get past it, you need to stop working against me and start working with me.”

“I have done everything you’ve asked!” James’ voice booms in the tiny room. “He’s in his own room, he catches the bus to and from school, he went to that fucking sleepover and we all know how well that went –”

“Please calm down, Mr Axton.”

James takes a deep breath in. He squeezes the stress ball hard enough to pop it. A puff of flour explodes from the hole he has created.

“We were fine,” he says once he is sure he can keep from yelling. “We were coping. We were happy. His nightmares had all but disappeared. He was doing well at school. He was happy. Why did we have to change things if they were working? Is it really so bad if he sleeps in my room or if he doesn’t want to go to other people’s houses?”

Dr Tate looks at him sympathetically. “Yes, unfortunately. It is. The longer he has these habits, the harder they will be to break. They were fine at first…Expected, even. But now…It’s been over a year, Mr Axton. How long can you keep it going? Imagine him at fifteen still wanting to sleep in your bed. Being too afraid to go out with his friends. What if you have a romantic partner come over and –”

“That’s not an issue.”

Dr Tate doesn’t miss a beat. “Fair enough. It’s not an issue now. But what about later? Do you really want him to be afraid his whole life?”

James watches Alexander through the glass. He’s drawing a picture. Astro is sitting on his lap. The Astro Boy pendant dangles from his neck.

“And while we’re talking about it…” Dr Tate continues, “do you really want to be afraid your whole life?”

James’ back stiffens.

Dr Tate presses on. “I know you’ve said no in the past, but Mr Axton, please…It would be hugely beneficial for both you and Alexander if you would consider getting some treatment yourself. What you both went through was traumatic. I understand your desire to put his needs first, I do, but…” Dr Tate looks at Alexander. His tongue is peeking out of the corner of his mouth. Concentration. “…You can’t help him heal if you are broken yourself.”

James’ gaze falls to his right pinky. The break didn’t heal properly, and since then it has been permanently stuck at a slight angle. A constant reminder of his broken promise.

“There are worse things to break,” he says quietly.

“I’m sorry?”

James clears his throat. “I can’t think about me right now,” he says, returning his gaze to Alexander. “I can’t.”

Alexander looks up. He stands up, closing his hand around Astro.

“James?”

James goes straight to the door and opens it. “I’m here, buddy,” he says, entering the room. “I’m here.”

Alexander walks over to him and James picks him up.

“You alright?”

Alexander nods, twisting his fingers in James’ hair. “I drew you a picture,” he says, burying his face in James’ neck.

James walks over the table and picks up the drawing with his free hand. A crayon family smiles back at him, all holding hands. He recognizes himself, Alexander, Michael and his mother. There’s a large bird in the sky.

No.

An angel.

Jenna.

A lump forms in James’ throat.

“Let’s go home,” he says, folding the page in half.

“The hour is not up yet,” Dr Tate says from the doorway to the other room. “We’re not finished.”

“Yes we are,” James says without looking at him. “We’re done.”

He puts Alexander down and helps him put on his jacket and beanie.

“Mr Axton…”

James rounds on him. “He was doing better,” he whispers through clenched teeth. “He was happy. He wasn’t drawing pictures of his dead aunt.”

“Sometimes you have to go backwards in order to go forwards. It’s good for him to face what happened so he can overcome it.”

James’ hand trembles. In his mind’s eye, he sees it. Hears the crack as his fist collides with Dr Tate’s skull.

Alexander takes his hand.

“James? Can we go home?”

It’s enough to pull him back from the edge.

“Sure, buddy,” he says, maintaining eye contact with Dr Tate. “Let’s go home.”


******

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Orange Sky: Part One

[Silent Scream can be found here. This is the sequel, so you do need to read that first. An introduction to Orange Sky and my gushy thank you post can be found here. Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy it. Xo]



He wakes up to the sound of screaming.

It takes him less than a second to fight through the sleepy fog in his head and locate the source.

Alexander.

He hurls himself forward, intending to run to him, intending to save him and kill whatever or whoever is making him scream like that.

But he can’t.

Someone is holding him down.

An inhuman sound bubbles in his throat as he kicks and punches in the dark, fighting against whatever unseen force is stopping him from getting to Alexander, stopping him from getting to his boy.

The light turns on. Michael stands in the doorway, covering his mouth as he yawns.

“J?” He looks concerned. “Are you alright?”

In the light, James recognises the room. His bedroom. He stops thrashing and looks down at himself. He is tangled in the bed sheets.

The screaming has stopped.

“Alexander,” James says, freeing himself from the sheets. “Where is Alexander??”

Michael frowns in confusion. “Alex? He’s asleep in his room. Are you oka—”

James pushes past him and sprints towards Alexander’s room down the hall. A few weeks ago Alexander’s therapist had insisted that Alexander start sleeping in his own bedroom again. He said it was time to start living life as normally as possible. James had wanted to punch him in the face when he said that. Now he wishes he had.

He rounds the corner into Alexander’s bedroom and flicks on the light. Alexander is sleeping peacefully, hugging his stuffed Astro Boy to his chest.

“It was just a dream,” Michael says behind James, making him jump. “Whatever it was, whatever you think you saw or heard…It was just a dream. Alex is fine.”

James walks towards Alexander’s bed and kneels down in front of him. He needs to touch him. He needs to know he is really there.

He brushes the hair off Alexander’s forehead. Alexander stirs, but doesn’t wake. He squeezes Astro tighter.

“He’s here?” James whispers.

“Yes,” Michael says from the doorway. “He’s here. He’s home. He’s safe. You both are.”

James rests his hand on Alexander’s back, feeling him breathe. He counts his breaths, barely whispering the numbers.

"One…two…three…four…”

The floorboards creak as Michael enters the room. He puts his hand on James’ shoulder.

“J,” he says quietly. “He’s okay. I promise. Go back to bed.”

“I need to know he’s breathing. I need…”

Michael wraps his hand around James’ arm and gently pulls him to his feet. James doesn’t resist.

“I know,” Michael says. “I know. But it’s been over a year, J. Thirteen months. You can’t stay in here every night listening to him breathe.”

“It was easier when he was sleeping with me,” James mumbles, not taking his eyes off Alexander. “When the only time we were apart was when he was at school. It was better then. We were happy then. I knew he was safe.”

Michael sighs. “Yeah, I know. But you heard what Dr Tate said. He can’t stay in your room forever. He can’t be too scared to go places and see his friends without you. It’s not healthy. He needs to get back to normality. You both do.”

Alexander stirs again.

“Come on,” Michael says. “Let’s go before we wake him up.”

James follows him out of the room and into the kitchen. Michael fills a glass with water and hands it to him. He takes it, checking the time on the microwave. 3:17am. He drains the glass and puts it in the sink.

“You okay?” Michael asks.

James nods. “Yeah. I think.” He clears his throat. “Thank you for staying here the last couple of weeks. For checking on him. On me.”

Michael smiles. “Of course, baby bro. I’ll be here as long as you need me. I know it’s been hard with the changes. Letting Alexander catch the bus to school, having him in his own room, letting him go over to friend’s houses…”

James tightens his jaw. He knows Dr Tate is right, that his paranoia negatively affects Alexander’s progress, but still…Being away from him is pure hell. He involuntarily remembers the first sleepover Alexander went to, two weeks after his ninth birthday. Alexander hadn’t wanted to go, but Dr Tate pushed him into it. Said it would be good for both him and James to spend the night apart. So Alexander had gone…And called James in hysterics at two am, begging him to come pick him up.

He pushes the thought away.

“Anyway,” he says to Michael. “I’m sorry for waking you up. Again. You’d better get back to bed.”

Michael looks at him skeptically. “I’d better get back to bed? Or we’d?”

James clears his throat again. “We.”

“Yeah? You going to bed too, or am I going to wake up to find you in Alexander’s room again?”

James holds his gaze. “I’m going to bed.”

Michael doesn’t seem convinced, but he turns to leave the kitchen anyway. James follows him. Michael walks him right to his bedroom.

“I’ll be down the hall if you need anything. Anything. Even if you just want to talk.”

“Thank you,” James says. “I appreciate that.” Michael hesitates. “Well good night.”

Michael narrows his eyes. Just a little. James pretends not to notice. “Good night,” Michael says. “Sleep well.”

James watches him go down the hallway and into the living room. He’d offered to turn his new study into a bedroom for Michael – Alexander’s bedroom was where his old study used to be – but Michael had refused. He’d been sleeping on the couch for weeks. He’d offered to stay after James told him how he was struggling with the changes suggested by Dr Tate. And James is grateful for it. He is.

But he also needs space.

He closes his bedroom door and sits down on his bed. Flashes of his nightmare play in his mind. Alexander’s scream still rings clear in his ears.

He knows he’s not getting any sleep tonight.

He pulls on a pair of jeans, a sweater and his shoes and creeps down the hallway to Alexander’s room. He can hear Michael snoring in the living room. Alexander is still sound asleep. His brow is crinkled, like he might be having a bad dream. James smooths it over with his fingers.

“It’s okay, buddy,” he whispers. “You’re safe.”

Alexander’s face relaxes.

James watches him for a few minutes, counting his breaths. When he gets to one hundred he tugs the blankets over Alexander’s exposed arm and tip-toes out of the room. He sneaks out the back door before Michael has a chance to wake up and stop him.



He's not entirely sure where he's going until he gets there. He slows down as he approaches the bright neon sign declaring it as Ladies night. Ladies drink for free. He stares at it in disgust for a few moments before finding a place to hide. To wait.

He doesn't have to wait long.

A man stumbles out of the bar and staggers over to the gutter. He keels over and pukes, filling the cool night air with the acrid stench of cheap spirits and nachos. James’ stomach twists and he fights against his gag reflex. He watches as the man loses every five dollar shot he's taken that night. Watches as he swears and spits and curses under his breath. Watches. Waiting. Anticipating.

Like clockwork, a slight young woman leaves the bar a moment later, rushing over to the man keeled over in the gutter.

"Oh, Grady!"

James’ heart skips a beat. He shuffles closer, straining to hear. Straining to see. The man straightens up and grunts something incoherent in reply. James catches a flash of red hair.

Not Grady.

Grady was blond.

And Grady is in prison.


He closes his eyes and repeats that to himself.

Grady is in prison.

"Are you okay? Gary!”

Gary. Not Grady. Gary.

The woman reaches for Gary, who is wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “I told you it wasn't a good idea to have that last round of shots. You know how..."

The sound of flesh slapping against flesh drowns out her voice. She whimpers and stumbles back, rubbing her already reddening face. Gary raises his hand again.

Close enough.

"I told you to mind your business," Gary slurs, bringing his fist down towards her face.

James catches it before it reaches its target. Gary calls out in surprise.

"What the fu..."

"Go home," James instructs the girl, who is still rubbing her face. "Go home and make better decisions about who you choose to invite into your life."

The girl looks bewildered. Gary twists out of James’ hold. James allows it.

"Who the fuck are you??" Gary slurs, squinting at him.

James ignores him, stepping in between Gary and the girl. "I think you should apologize to your girlfriend then remove yourself from her life."

Gary stares at him for a moment, then laughs.

"Are you serious??" He cranes his neck around to look at his girlfriend. "Hey Andy -- is this clown serious??"

James feels a surge of rage. He wants to make this man hurt. He wants to set the world on fire.

He wants pain.

He turns to the girl.

"Andy?"

She looks between him and Gary nervously.

"Hey. Hey," he says gently. "Look at me. Do you live with this man?"

She looks at Gary again.

"Andy." James touches her face, forcing her to look at him. "Do you live with this man?"

Andy shakes her head. He focuses on her. She can't be more than twenty-five.

"Okay. Good. Here's what you're going to do. You're going to go home and lock the doors. You're going to call a friend and ask them to come over. And then you're never going to let this piece of trash near you again. Do you understand?"

"Who the fuck do you think you are??" Gary slurs, taking a couple of unsteady steps towards James. He shoves him. James’ hands curl into fists as he turns around.

"You need to learn to keep your hands to yourself," he says, meeting Gary's eyes. Andy takes a step back. Gary's eyes narrow into slits.

"Fuck you, old man," he spits. James sees it coming a second before it happens, but he is a moment too slow and Gary's fist connects with his jaw. Behind him, Andy screams. He hears her footsteps as she runs away. He hopes she is smart enough to take his advice, but deep down he knows better. You can't make someone leave a bad situation. They have to want to do it for themselves.

His mother taught him that.

He ducks as Gary swings again, twisting at an unnatural angle and hurting his back. He takes a sharp breath in. Gary cackles.

"What's the matter, old man? Arthritis got you down?"

James grits his teeth and plants his feet firmly on the ground. "You want to hurt someone?! You want to hit someone?!" He punches Gary in the nose, feeling a sick rush of pleasure as the bones and cartilage splinter and crank, sending a wave of warm blood onto his knuckles.

"Hit me," he growls, trembling in anticipation. "Hit me! Hit someone who can fight back!!"

Gary's hands fly to his nose as he attempts to staunch the flow of blood and snot.

"You're a freak!" he mumbles through his fingers. He stumbles backwards. "You're a goddamn freak!"

James kicks him in the knees. Gary lunges for him, punching him in the stomach. The pain of being winded temporarily blocks out the pain in his back.

"It's not as much fun to beat on someone who can defend themselves, is it?" James spits, punching him in the jaw. "It's not as satisfying when your victim doesn't cower away, is it??" He kicks Gary's legs out from under him. Gary falls to the ground. James grabs the scruff of Gary’s t-shirt and uses it to wipe the blood off his knuckles. He looks down at him, this pathetic mess of a man bleeding from his nose into his own mouth. His features distort. Twist.

Become Grady.

"What do you want from me??" Gary shrinks back, cowering. "What do you want??"

I want to kill you for what you did to Alexander.

James blinks.

Not Grady. Grady is in prison. He’s not Grady.

The image of Grady fades. Gary whimpers and shields his face.

"You think this is pain?" James spits, looking at him in disgust. "You don't even KNOW pain. You don't have a fucking CLUE about pain."

Gary looks like he's going to cry. James glares at him.

"This is what I want, you punk-ass little kid. Go home. Get cleaned up. Get your ass into rehab or something, and then -- now this is important -- Never contact Andy again."

Gary's eyes widen. "What??"

"You heard me. You have two choices. Either I kill you right now," -- Gary lets out a sob -- "or you promise me right here and right now that you will never raise your hand to a woman again. Ever."

"But --"

James knees him in the stomach. He splutters for air.

"I don't recall giving a third option called but."

Gary coughs and spits out blood. James tries to find it within himself to feel guilty.

He can't.

"Do we understand each other, Grady?"

Gary looks confused. “My name’s not Grady, it’s…”

James knees him again.

"I SAID, do we understand each other?”

Gary nods.

"Good." James bends forward and reaches into Gary's pocket. Gary flinches as James pulls out his wallet. He thumbs through and removes his driver’s license. He reads over it then replaces it.

"I have your address now, Mr 3749 Markland Drive. I'll be checking up on you from time to time. Making sure you are a man of your word. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Gary nods again.

"Good. Now get the fuck out of here."

James tosses his wallet at him and turns to leave. He hears Gary scramble to his feet and run in the opposite direction. He breathes out heavily and pulls a bottle of hand sanitizer from his pocket. He squeezes a generous amount into his palm and replaces the bottle before rubbing his hands together. He rubs his jaw, feeling a bruise already starting to form. He sighs. Another injury to explain. Just like the cuts on his knuckles. The split in his lip which required stitches. The black eye which took over a month to heal. Part of him wishes Michael would just ask, just call him on his lies of I fell off my bike, I was boxing at the gym, I tripped but what would he even say? How would he even begin to explain that the only way he can deal with the pain on the inside is to hurt on the outside? How could he explain that every scumbag kid-beating-woman-hitting abuser becomes Grady? Becomes Alexander’s father? Becomes their stepfather? He shakes his head, looking up at the stars.

Michael doesn’t ask for the same reason James didn’t ask about his drinking for so long: Sometimes it is just too difficult to take on someone else’s demons when you’re barely managing to fight your own.

As he starts to walk home, he thinks about Michael. How strong he’s been. How he wouldn’t lay down and take it when the doctors said he may never walk again after the bullet shattered his femur. How he’s risen to every challenge so far, and overcome it. He’s been so strong. So strong.

James stops.

Too strong.

A cold dread fills the pit of his stomach.

Sometimes it’s too difficult to take on someone else’s demons when you’re barely managing to fight your own.

No, James thinks, breaking into a run. No. He couldn’t be. No.

He arrives home in minutes and sneaks in through the backdoor. He goes straight into the living room, ready to wake up Michael, ready to tell him he’s sorry, ready to beg him to go back to rehab…

Michael is still asleep on the couch. He looks peaceful. He looks like Alexander. James stares at him, searching his memory for any indication that he is slipping.

He comes up blank.

Just because I’m falling apart, doesn’t mean you are too, he thinks, feeling ashamed of himself. You’ve always been the stronger one. Always.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, backing away. “I’m sorry.”

He finds himself in Alexander’s room. Alexander is still asleep, curled up with Astro. His nightlight throws shadows on the wall. Guitars. Musical notes. Drum kits. Even though he knows he’s not supposed to, James kicks off his shoes and climbs onto the bed. The movement wakes Alexander.

“It’s just me,” James whispers, lying down behind him. “You’re safe.”

Alexander sniffs and rubs his eyes.

“James?”

“Yeah, buddy. It’s me. Go back to sleep, okay?”

Alexander nods, not needing to be told twice. He turns around and snuggles up against James, fitting perfectly against the curve of his body. James puts his hand on Alexander’s back, feeling him breathe.

Counting his breaths.

Convincing himself that he is there.

That he is safe.

That he is alive.

******

I had a dream I stood beneath an Orange Sky

It’s here.

Orange Sky is here.

I have to say, it is pretty freaking incredible that so many of you have been waiting for this and asking for this without knowing anything about it. I can’t thank you enough for your encouragement and support. You all inspire me more than I can even say. I had every intention to write a gushy ‘thank you for believing in me’ post after the end of Silent Scream, but to be honest, I was so caught up in writing Orange Sky that I couldn’t make other words happen. I get like that. Laser focus, which is both a blessing and a curse. But now Orange Sky is complete (at EIGHTY FOUR THOUSAND WORDS!) and so here is my gushy ‘thank you for believing in me’ post: Thank you so much for the faith. Thank you for all your tweets, DMs, emails, comments and messages. Thank you to everyone who shared links and encouraged other people to come and check out my blog. A special thank you to the people who became so involved in the story that they started tweeting me abuse over what was happening. I actually love that so much because I’m a weirdo and your reactions give me life. It is honestly so amazing to see how passionate some of you get and know that I caused that. Me. My words. It gets me all giddy and makes me look a little like this:





I once wrote a post about the difference between a writer and an author. Based on that post and how you all responded to Silent Scream, right now, in this moment, I feel like an author. Not a real author, but the closet I have ever been. And that is one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced. So thank you for that. You guys are incredible and I heart each and every one of you. Thank you.


Now I’m not saying you have to read Silent Scream before you read Orange Sky, but I am saying that if you haven’t, you may be a little lost. Oop. Make of that what you will. I mean I’m not saying…But maybe I’m saying…You know what I’m saying? :p If you haven’t read it or would like a refresher course in what happened, you can find the entire story here.


As always, you are welcome to play #TakeAShotOfAlmondMilk by tweeting me @GirlWithWords when you see a reference to certain bands or certain people. What can I say; I have a problem. I doubt anything I ever write will be entirely free from almond milk. And you know what? I am completely okay with that :p


As with Silent Scream, the *** at the beginning of each section are music links. If you click on it, it will take you to the soundtrack for that chapter. I highly recommend you do because music is amazing and having a soundtrack adds to the pain. Yes I said pain. There will be pain. There will be blood.* It’s not ‘trigger warning’ dark, but it IS dark. You know me. Dark and twisty. Scary and damaged.


One more thing before I throw you all into the dark and twisty depths of my insane mind; I just want to say a huge thank you to my amazing beta readers @cortana02, @moon_cake1 and of course, my momz. You guys don’t even want to KNOW how neurotic and annoying I am, but these lovely ladies just accept my insanity and offer me excellent advice and encouragement. I heart you three so big.


Okay. Enough rambling. Orange Sky starts…Now.


TITLE LYRICS: ‘Orange Sky’ by Alexi Murdoch
*I had to. I did.


Friday, 6 February 2015

Silent Scream: Part Thirty

[Parts 1-29 are here. Thank you for reading. Xo]


“What do you think she’ll like?” Michael asks, holding Alexander’s hand. Alexander swings their hands around, looking through all the store windows.

“Ummm…What about a hat?” he suggests, pausing outside a small boutique. “She likes hats.” He looks up at the oversized hat sitting on Michael’s head. “You both do!”

Michael laughs and runs his fingers over the brim. “Hey, kid. Don’t hate the hat. Hate the game.”

Alexander sticks out his tongue and tugs on Michael’s hand. “Let’s go in there. I think Grandma would like that one.” He points to a straw hat on the top shelf. There’s a purple ribbon wrapped around it.

Michael raises his eyebrow. “You’ve got a good eye, kid. Come on. After this we’ll go get something to eat.”

“We should get some flowers, too,” Alexander says. “For the grave.”

Michael misses a beat. Just one.

“Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Maybe after we get food, though. So they don’t dry out. What do you feel like eating?”

Alexander grins. “CUPCAKES.”

Michael chuckles. “You and cupcakes, I swear. You’re not going to have any teeth left if you keep eating all this sugar!”

Alexander bares his teeth. “I’m only missing one,” he mumbles, poking his finger into his mouth and pointing out his missing back tooth. “My other ones grew back!”

Michael smiles and ruffles his hair. “Yeah? Teeth tend to do that, kid.”



They leave the store with a new hat for Elizabeth and a new hat for Michael.

“Why did you get a present?” Alexander grumbles. “It’s not your birthday.”

“Shhh,” Michael says, laughing. “Otherwise I won’t buy you a present.”

“A birthday present?” Alexander asks brightly. Michael nods.

“Of course. How old are you turning? Twenty-seven??”

Alexander rolls his eyes. “Nine, Uncle Michael,” he says condescendingly. “I’m turning nine in fifteen days!”

“Which means I must be turning four hundred in twenty-two days,” James says, appearing behind them.

Alexander giggles and drops Michael’s hand, racing over to James and tackling him in a bear hug.

“Hey, buddy,” James says, picking him up. “Did you guys have fun shopping? You ready for me to join you or are you still doing super-secret-squirrel-business??”

Alexander looks over at Michael. “Hide that bag!” he says in an exaggerated whisper.

“Oh, right!” Michael says, tucking the bag behind his back.

James laughs. “Let me guess…New guitar strings and some crazy ass socks.”

Alexander crinkles his nose. “You peeked! And you said a bad word!”

“I did not peek,” James says defensively. “I’m just very clever. And I’m sorry…Crazy ­bottom socks.”

Alexander giggles. James puts him down and holds his hand.

“Do you want me to take those?” James asks Michael, nodding towards the bags. Michael nods gratefully and hands them over.

“Yeah, thanks man. Physio this morning was a b-i-t-c-h.”

“I can spell, you know,” Alexander says, pulling a face. James tugs him towards him, winding his arm around Alexander’s head and blocking his ears between his arm and his body.

“Shhh. No you can’t.”

Michael laughs and leans heavily on his walking stick.

“Come on,” James says, eyeing his brother. “Let’s go sit down and get something to eat. What do you feel like, Alexander?”

Alexander’s grin widens. James rolls his eyes and Michael sighs. The three of them say it at the same time.

“Cupcakes.”

‘Alright,” James says, laughing. “Let’s go get some cupcakes. You can choose one for Grandma,” he says to Alexander. “She’s coming over for dinner tonight.”

“After we go visit Jenna?”

James takes a tiny breath in. It still hurts him to think about how much loss Alexander has suffered. To think about everything he’s been through.

You still have me, buddy, he thinks. You’ll always have me. Jenna made sure of that.

“Yeah, buddy,” he says out loud. “After we visit Jenna. We’ll get her some pretty flowers too, okay?”

Alexander grins. “Hey! That’s what I said.” He pauses thoughtfully. “Does that mean I can have TWO cupcakes??” he asks, tugging James forward. “You know. One for now and one for dessert.”

“Can you believe this kid??” James asks Michael. But he can’t keep the smile off his face.

“Pleeeeease,” Alexander begs.

James takes a deep breath in. “Fine, buddy. You can have two. Just this once.”

“YES!”

James shakes his head. “What did the physio say?” he asks, turning to Michael.

Michael beams. “I should be back to running rings around you in no time, baby bro.” He raises his eyebrow and smirks.

“In your dreams,” James says. But he smiles.

They reach the bakery and go inside.

“Which one should I get?” Michael asks, staring into the glass cabinet. “Which one, oh grand cupcake connoisseur?”

“What’s a consore?” Alexander asks, looking up at James.

Connoisseur,” James corrects. “It’s someone who knows a lot about something. So you know a lot about cupcakes.”

“Ohhh.” He turns to Michael with a look of determination on his face. “This one,” he says, pointing to a vanilla cupcake with sprinkles on top. “This one is the best.”

Michael laughs. “Okay, kid. I trust you know what you’re talking about.”

“You know, that one does look good,” James says. He looks up at the woman behind the counter. “Hi there! Can we get three vanilla cupcakes please, an expresso –”

“Double shot,” Michael interrupts.

“—Double shot espresso,” James continues, “a bottle of coconut water, and…What do you want to drink, Alexander?”

Alexander stares into the fridge. “Coconut water,” he says after a moment.

James chuckles. “Okay, make that two coconut waters.”

The woman behind the counter smiles. “Will that be all?” James nods. “That will be seventeen dollars and ninety-eight cents.”

James pays and they go sit down. When their cupcakes arrive, Michael dips his finger into the frosting.

“Hey I have a question,” he says, licking a sprinkle off his finger. “Why do all sprinkles taste the same? They’re all different colours…Shouldn’t they be different flavours?”

James laughs so hard that coconut water sprays out of his nose.

“What?” Michael asks, licking his finger again. “What’s so funny??”

James opens his mouth to tell him, but Alexander beats him to it.

“You ask such weird questions, Uncle Michael,” he says, licking a sprinkle off his own finger. “Just eat your cupcake.”

Sitting there, watching Michael and Alexander argue over whether or not sprinkles actually are different flavours when eaten individually, James can only think one thing:

Yes. This is what happiness feels like.


END

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Silent Scream: Part Twenty-Nine

[Part 1-28 are here. Thank you for reading. Xo]


Unpause.

James wrestles the gun away from Grady and whips it around, aiming it between Grady’s eyes. His hand shakes.

“I should fucking kill you, you son of a bitch,” he spits. His finger trembles on the trigger.

“Do it,” Grady snarls. “I’m dead anyway. I died the day Ella did.”

“James?”

He looks up. Alexander lies a few feet away, huddled in Michael’s arms.

“James?” Alexander repeats. A police officer puts his hand on James’ shoulder. He flinches.

“Easy,” the officer says, holding out his hand while using the other one to point his gun and Grady. “Give me the gun. We’ve got it from here. We’ve got it.”

James looks around through his tear-soaked eyes. Several police officers are surrounding him now. All aiming their guns at Grady. He swallows and moves off Grady. Three officers pounce on Grady, restraining him and handcuffing him. One starts to read him his rights.

“Give me the gun,” the officer says again, holding out his hand further. James stares at the gun like he doesn’t know how it got there.

“James?” Alexander says again. James’ slow-motion brain finally kicks up to speed. He hands the gun to the officer and scrambles over to Alexander and Michael. “Alexander,” he sobs, reaching for him. “Oh God, Alexander.”

Alexander wiggles out of Michael’s hold and launches himself into James’ arms. James clings to him, burying his face in his neck and closing his eyes.

“Thank God,” he whispers. “Thank God.”

He opens his eyes and looks at Michael.

“Thank you,” he mumbles into Alexander’s hair. “Thank you.”

Michael smiles weakly.

The metallic scent of blood hangs in the air.

“Michael?”

Michael’s head lolls to the side. His eyes are unfocused. A thin sheen of sweat coats his face. James’ eyes trail down Michael’s body.

And stop on the pool of blood expanding around him.



“Michael!” James screams, searching for the source of the blood. ‘Michael!!”

Sirens scream through the frosty air. Reinforcements have finally arrived. James runs his hands over Michael’s body, searching for the wound, desperate to staunch the flow before Michael bleeds out. Alexander still clings to him, not willing to let him go.

“I need help!” James screams. “I NEED HELP!!”

Two ambulance officers come tearing through, knocking James out of the way and working on Michael.

“I need a tourniquet!” one yells, pressing his hand against Michael’s thigh. “Quick! He’s punctured the femoral; we need to get this bleeding under control NOW!”

James stumbles backwards, moving out of their way. Warmth spreads over his stomach and the smell of urine fills the air. He clings Alexander to him, watching the ambulance officers work on Michael in quiet disbelief.

His brain can’t process much more.

“Sir?” someone says behind him. “Sir? We need to examine the boy. Sir? We need to examine your son.”

He turns around. A concerned-looking ambulance officer holds out her hands. “Let us make sure he is okay,” she says. “Let us check him.”

James shakes his head and tightens his hold on Alexander.

He is never letting him go.

“Sir?” The ambulance officer frowns and looks to her partner for support. “Please, sir. He has injuries. We need to take care of him, and you.”

“Sweetheart.”

He turns around. His mom stands behind him. The sun has just started to rise and she seems to glow in the morning haze, unmarred by blood and dirt like the rest of them. Her hand covers her mouth as she looks between him and Michael. She looks like he feels.

Broken.

“Mom.”

His voice is broken, too.

He turns to Michael. The ambulance officers are strapping his leg to a stiff board. His eyes are closed.

“Give me Alexander,” his mom says, reaching out for him. “Sweetheart, let me take him. Let the ambulance officers help him. Help you.”

Pain shoots through his chest. He gasps and stumbles backwards. He holds Alexander even tighter.

“James,” Elizabeth says. “Please. He needs help. You need help. Let me help you.”

James shakes his head. “I can’t let him go,” he whispers. “I can’t.”

“I know,” Elizabeth says. “I know it’s hard, sweetheart. Give him to me. I’ll keep him safe. I promise.”

Pinky swear?

I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. Ever.


His heart feels like it is burning inside him, set ablaze and turning to ash while he stands. He looks at his mom. She nods.

“It’s okay, honey. I’ll look after him.”

Every beat of his heart is agony. He knows he won’t make it much longer. He unhooks Alexander’s unwilling hands from around his neck and passes him to Elizabeth.

“No,” Alexander sobs. “Don’t let me go. Don’t go. Don’t leave me. DON’T LEAVE ME!!”

“I’m right here, buddy,” James says. His voice is strained. “I’ll never leave you.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his Astro Boy necklace. He slips it over Alexander’s head. “Just close your eyes,” he says, briefly kissing the top of Alexander’s head. “You’ll be alright. No-one can hurt you now.”

The ambulance officers swoop in, taking Alexander from Elizabeth and placing him on a gurney.

“Stay with him,” James yells to her, fighting to be heard over the ringing in his ears. “Stay with him! Don’t leave him! Don’t leave him!” A fresh round of flames tear through him. His heart crumbles into ash. “Don’t leave him. Don’t…”

He’s not sure if he’s talking to his mom or to himself.

******

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Silent Scream: Part Twenty-Eight

[Parts 1-27 are here.]



Incoherent memories play in his mind.

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a dreamer like you.”

He laughs.“You don’t have to wait to grow up for that, buddy. Be a dreamer right now.”

Alexander twists his fingers in James’ hair, playing with it. “How?” he asks.

James closes his eyes. He can feel Alexander’s heart beating. Astro Boy plays in the background, long since forgotten. A bowl of popcorn sits on the couch beside them.

“It’s easy,” James says, looking down at him. “You just think of what you want the most in the world, and you say it out loud. Then you do whatever you need to do to get it.”

Alexander rests his head against James’ chest.

“I want to stay with you,” he says, still tugging James’ hair. “I want to stay with you forever.”


“Let the boy go,” and officer says, pointing his gun at Grady. Grady tightens his hold on Alexander. His arm is wrapped around his neck. Alexander stands there staring straight ahead. There’s a puddle around his feet.

“I’m in charge here,” Grady snarls. He turns the gun to Alexander’s temple. James grips the boatshed beside him for support. “Put down your weapons or I’ll paint the boatsheds brain-matter pink.”

James feels like all the blood has left his body. He clings to the side of the boatshed, frantically trying to make his slow-motion brain formulate a plan, terrified that charging at Grady will make him pull the trigger. The officer lowers his gun.

“Okay,” he says, gesturing for the other officers to do the same. “Okay.”

“Kick them over here,” Grady demands.

“Do it,” the officer in the front says. They all kick their guns across the gravel.

“There,” the officer says. “Now let the boy go. He’s just a kid, Grady. You can’t do this. I know you. You can’t hurt a kid.”

Grady sneers. “You all think you know me. You all think you understand me but you DON’T! NOBODY UNDERSTANDS THE PAIN I FEEL!! NOBODY!!” He takes a deep breath, composing himself. “But,” he says, cocking his gun, “Axton will. He will. And world will have to listen. The world will finally see what their narrow minded views have done. It doesn’t matter if I live or die tonight. My message will be heard. This moment will never be forgotten. His death won’t fade into the background like Ella’s did. This is how it starts. This is how it begins.”

“NOOOO!” James roars, springing from the shadows. All thoughts of making a plan disappear and he charges towards Grady and Alexander. “TAKE ME!” he screams. “KILL ME!! IF YOU WANT YOUR FACE ON THE NEWS AND YOUR STORY TOLD, THEN KILL ME!! Nobody forgets the people who kill celebrities! Lennon was shot nearly 25 years ago and they are STILL making movies about it!” He slows to a halt, aware that if he tries to get any closer, he might push Grady to shoot Alexander. “You want your message heard?” he asks breathlessly, holding up his hands in surrender. “Then take me. Kill me. Shoot me right here. I guarantee it will be all people will talk about for a very long time.”

Alexander gasps at the sight of him. “James,” he says, beginning to cry. “James, no.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” James says, reaching out towards him. His hand hangs in the empty space between them. “I’m right here. I’m here. Close your eyes, Alexander. Close them. This will all be over soon.”

Alexander shakes his head. “No,” he sobs.

James nods, blinking faster to clear the tears in his eyes. “Yes, buddy. Close them. It will be alright. I promise you it will be alright.”

Your promises
They look like lies.

“Fine,” Grady says, turning the gun towards James. “I’ll kill you both. Who gets to go first, hmmm? Let’s let little Alexander choose, shall we?” He leans down, putting his filthy, blood caked lips near Alexander’s ear. “What do you think, buddy?” he says, keeping the gun trained on James. “Shall I shoot you or your daddy first??”

“Me,” Alexander says without hesitating. He stifles a sob. “Shoot me and leave my daddy alone.”

Grady raises his eyebrow in surprise.

“Brave little thing, aren’t you?” he says, turning the gun back towards Alexander’s head. “As you wish.”

“NO!” James screams, sprinting towards them. “NO!!”

Several things happen at once.

The officer in the front dives for his gun, grabbing it and bouncing to his feet. James reaches Grady and tackles him to the ground. Michael appears out of nowhere and snatches Alexander out of Grady’s reach.

A gun goes off.

Bang.



Pause.

******