Thursday, 5 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Nine

[Parts 1-8 can be found here. Thank you so much for all your support and encouragement Xo]


James gasps and sits up. It takes him a moment to orientate himself. He looks around the room. Vail, he thinks, patting the bed. We’re in Vail.


“Alexander,” he whispers, realizing what woke him up. Alexander is still asleep, tangled up in the blankets beside him. In the moonlight coming through the open curtains, James can see the fear on Alexander’s face. He puts his hand on his shoulder.

“Alexander.Wake up, buddy. Wake up.”

Alexander takes a sharp breath in and opens his eyes.

“James?” His voice wavers.

“I’m right here, buddy.” James lies down beside him and puts his arm around him. “It’s okay.” He can feel Alexander trembling in his arms. “Are you cold?” He tugs the blankets up to Alexander’s shoulders. Alexander shakes his head.

“I had a bad dream,” he says, burrowing closer to James. He sounds close to tears.

“It’s okay, buddy,” James whispers, rubbing his back. “It was just a dream. It wasn’t real.”

Alexander nods, but he’s still trembling.

“Did she die?” he asks in a small voice.

James’ hand stills. Even though he knows, he still has to ask. “Who?”

“The little girl’s mommy. The lady in the car.”

James swallows. He doesn’t know what to say.

“Is she dead?” His voice is barely above a whisper.

James pulls him closer and closes his eyes. Their hearts beat in unison.

“When a person…When a person dies, it’s only their bodies that go. Their spirits stay with the people they love forever.”

“Their spirit?”

James nods and puts his hand over Alexander’s heart. “Your spirit lives in here. In your heart. It’s the part of you that makes you, you. And when people die…That part of them stays. So they’re never really gone. Not really.”

Alexander is silent for a few minutes. Then he says, “So she did die.”

James breathes out. “Yeah buddy,” he says quietly. “She did.”

Alexander wriggles even closer. He fits himself into the curve of James’ body.

“Then what goes to Heaven?”

“What do you mean?”

Alexander twists James’ hair around his fingers. “If your body goes into a coffin and your spirit stays here…What goes to Heaven?”

James opens his eyes. He’s never really considered any of this before. He prays sometimes and he went to church as a kid…But he’s still not quite sure what he believes.

“Your soul,” he says, surprising himself. “Your soul goes to Heaven.”

Alexander rests his head against James’ chest. “I can hear your spirit,” he says, still playing with James’ hair.

James smiles. “Yeah? What’s my spirit saying?”

Alexander giggles softly. “He’s not saying anything. He’s knocking on the walls.”

James chuckles. “Listen closer. I can hear him. He’s saying…I love you, Alexander.

Alexander turns his head to face James’ chest. ”I love you, too,” he whispers to James’ heart. He lays his head back down. James strokes his hair. He’s stopped trembling now.

“Is Jenna is Heaven?” 

“Yes,” James says quietly.

“And my mommy?” Alexander asks. “Is she is Heaven, too?”

James nods. “Yes.”

“Is the lady in Heaven? The girl’s mommy?”


Alexander stops playing with James’ hair. “What about Hell? Do people go to Hell?”

James has no idea how to answer him. Alexander stares at him, waiting for answer.

“Bad people might,” James says finally. “But I don’t…I don’t know.”

Alexander resumes playing with James’ hair. “If I die,” he says, tying a strand of James’ hair into a knot, “Do I get to stay with you? With my spirit? Or do I have to go with my soul to Heaven?”

James feels the blood drain from his face. He clears his throat. “We don’t have to think about that now,” he says, keeping his voice as light as possible. “That won’t be for a very long time.”

Alexander unties the knot and closes his eyes. “I don’t want to go to Heaven without you,” he says, yawning. “I want to stay with you forever and ever.”

“You can,” James says, feeling the steady rise and fall of Alexander’s chest against his. “You will.”

Alexander takes a fist full of James’ shirt. “Promise?” he asks, but he is already asleep before James has a chance to answer.

When James wakes up again, the sun is shining and he is alone. He sits up. Panic begins to curl its way around his heart.

“Alexander?” he calls. Alexander comes bounding back into the bedroom. He’s still in his Buzz Lightyear pyjamas.

“You’re awake!” he squeals, grinning. “Me and Uncle Michael made pancakes! Uncle Michael said after breakfast we can go play in the snow! Can we, James? Can we??”

James smiles, hoping that Alexander’s bright attitude means that he has forgotten the horrors of last night.

“Definitely,” he says, getting out of bed. “After breakfast we’ll get dressed and go find a nice snowy mountain so I can teach you how to snowboard.”

Alexander’s grin grows wider, revealing a new gap in his teeth.

“You lost a tooth?” James asks, getting out of bed. Alexander’s hand flies up to the gap.

“Uh-huh,” he says, pushing his finger into his mouth. “It fell into my juice.”

“That’s disgusting,” James says, laughing. “Where is it?”

Alexander points to his side of the bed. There’s a bundle of tissues on the bedside table.

“Do you think the tooth fairy will be able to find me?” Alexander asks, taking his finger out of his mouth. James walks over to him and ruffles his hair.

“Of course. The tooth fairy is very, very smart.”

Alexander giggles and they walk into the kitchen together. Michael is standing at the stove, flipping the last pancake out of the pan.

“Morning, brother,” he says as James enters the room. “I went to the store this morning.” He puts the empty pan in the sink and walks over to the refrigerator. “I even bought…” He pulls a bag out and puts it on the kitchen bench.

“Carrots!” Alexander says, clapping his hands. “For the snowmen! Thank you, Uncle Michael!”

James leans against the wall, watching Alexander deliberate over the best carrot for Olaf’s nose. We’ll be okay, he thinks, feeling a little better than he did last night. We’ll be alright.

“J?” Michael says, looking over at him. “You okay?”

James smiles and pushes himself off the wall. He walks over to the kitchen bench to help Alexander choose a carrot nose for Olaf.

“Yeah,” he says, putting his arm around Alexander. “I am.”

Later, after they’ve had breakfast and gotten ready, they head over to the slopes. James chooses the smallest one to teach Alexander how to snowboard.

“Here,” James says, strapping Alexander into a children’s board he bought for him. “It’s a bit like a skateboard. Have you ever used one of those?” Alexander shakes his head. “That’s okay,” James says, taking his hand. “We’ll go slow.”

For the next couple of hours, James guides him up and down the tiny slope, teaching him how to use his body to control the speed and direction of the board. Michael alternates between shouting encouragement from the bottom of the slope and bringing them cups of cocoa and cookies from the nearby lodge. By lunch time, they’re all ready for a break.

“What should we do after we eat?” James asks Alexander, helping him out of the snowboard shoes. Alexander gets his foot caught in one of the shoes and crashes to the ground, landing on his stomach.

“Alexander?” James says, immediately panicking. “Are you okay?”

Alexander rolls over onto his back, giggling. He is covered in snow. His foot is still attached to the snowboard.

“Snow is so cold,” he says, making no attempt to sit up. James unbuckles the snowboard shoe and puts it aside.

“You’re going to get sick if you lie in the snow,” James says, reaching out to help him up. Alexander takes his hand, but instead of getting up, he pulls James down beside him. He giggles even more.

“Oh is that funny?” James growls, rolling onto his back. Alexander giggles more still and nods. James gathers a handful of soft snow and throws it at him.

“Now that’s funny,” James says, grinning.

Alexander gasps from the sudden cold. It only takes him a second to retaliate. He gathers a handful of snow and dumps it on James’ face.

“No that is!” he giggles, leaping to his feet. He takes off at a run. James gets up too and slaps together a snowball before chasing Alexander down the slope. He hurls the ball at him, hitting him in the back.

“Hey!” Alexander squeals as he returns fire, hitting James in the chest. James laughs and bends down to make another snowball.

“Hey guys, I brought you some –” Michael’s sentence gets cut off by a snowball to the face. Alexander freezes and covers his mouth.

“Sorry,” he mumbles through his fingers. “I didn’t mean to.”

Michael puts down a cardboard tray containing three Styrofoam cups and three individually sealed cookies and wipes the snow off his face.

“It’s fine,” he says, shaking the snow out of his hair. “It’s fine.”

He bends down as though he’s going to pick up their food, but instead he makes a snowball and hurls it at Alexander. It hits him in the arm. Alexander giggles and makes a new snowball at lightning pace. He throws it at Michael, who has already gathered an arsenal of his own.

“Hey!” James yells. They turn to look at him and he hits them both square in the chest in quick succession. He dives behind a nearby snow mound as several snowballs fly towards him. He can hear Alexander’s laughter as he makes more snowballs. He wonders if anything has ever sounded better. No, he thinks, building up another collection of snowballs. Nothing sounds better than that.

The snowball fight continues long into the afternoon, long after their cocoa has grown cold and forgotten. It is headed for dinner by the time they finally collapse onto the snow, exhausted and happy. James lies on his back, looking up at the sky. The sun has begun to set, casting the same eerie orange glow on the mountains as the night before. Alexander puts his head on James’ chest. Michael is lying beside him.

“We had a snowball fight,” Alexander says.

James smiles. “We did.”

“And you taught me how to snowboard.”

“I did.”

“And we built a snowman.”

“We did all those things,” James says, still smiling.

Alexander leans up on his elbows, looking at James. “We didn’t make a snow angel,” he says seriously, as though this is of grave concern. James laughs.

“Okay then, kid. We’ll make one right now. Hop off me and stand up. I’ll show you how.”

Alexander does it and James spreads his arms legs out wide and pulls them back in several times, making an angel pattern in the snow.

“There,” James says, standing up. “Your turn.”

“I’m going to move out of the way for this,” Michael says, hobbling to his feet. He rubs his thigh.

“You okay?” James asks. Michael nods, leaning against his cane. “Yeah. I’m fine. Just stiff.”

Alexander lies back down in the snow, in the centre of James’ snow angel. James laughs.

“Oh buddy, you gotta make your own,” he says, watching Alexander flap his arms and legs up and down.

“No I don’t,” Alexander says, standing up and revealing his smaller angel inside James’ angel. “My angel is with your angel. They fit together, just like us.”

Alexander smiles and dusts the snow off his clothes. James can’t help but smile too. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and takes a picture of the two angels together.

“Yeah, buddy,” he says, putting his phone away. “They fit together, just like us.”