“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.”