Friday, 6 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Ten

[Parts 1-9 are here. Thank you so much for reading Xo]


“We didn’t go ice-skating!” Alexander exclaims, dropping his fork at dinner. Several people in the restaurant look over at them. James laughs and ruffles Alexander’s hair.

“No we didn’t. Not yet. Tomorrow? We’re still here for another six days, buddy. We’ve got time to go ice skating and build more snowmen and do whatever else you want to do.”

Alexander’s face lights up. He picks up his fork, twirling it in his spaghetti.

“Six more days??” He takes a mouthful of spaghetti. “Really??”

James smiles. “Yep. Six more days. We have plenty of time.”

Alexander grins. A group of four young men are laughing loudly at the next table. James glances at them over his shoulder. The oldest one looks to be about twenty-five. They all appear to be drunk. He turns away.

“Ask him,” one of them says, laughing. “Go on.”

The hairs on the back of James’ neck stand up. He looks over at Alexander, who is puddling around with the end of his fork.

“It’s totally him,” one of the men says. “And that’s the kid. You know, the kid.”

“Are you finished, Alexander?” James asks. Michael catches his eye.

“Do you want me to say something?” he whispers. James shakes his head.

“No. Let’s just get out of here.”

“I am finished,” Alexander says, yawning. “But can I have a cupcake?”

“Sure,” James says, standing up. “We’ll pick one up on the way back to our unit.”

Michael stands up too and picks up his cane.

“No shit!” one of the other men says, slapping his friend on the back. “It IS them! The brother got shot, remember!”

Several other patrons are looking at them now. Whispering. James tries not to hear what they are saying.

“Come on, Alexander,” he says tersely, taking Alexander’s hand. He stops a nearby waiter. “Can we have the bill, please?” he asks, pulling Alexander closer to him. The waiter gestures over at their table.

“Certainly; if you want to wait at your table I can have someone bring it over to y—”

“No,” James says, hearing the men continue to dare each other to come talk to him. “We’ll wait at the front.” He walks away without waiting for a response, holding Alexander beside him.

After James pays for their meal, they head out into the snowy carpark. Alexander shivers and huddles closer to James.

“Where’d we park the car?” James asks Michael, scanning the sea of snow-covered vehicles.

“Somewhere in this section,” Michael says, looking around.

James hears a flurry of footsteps approaching them from behind. He turns. The young men from the restaurant are behind them, laughing jovially and shoving one another around.

“Michael,” James says, turning away. “Let’s—”

“HEY!” one of them calls. His friends laugh. “HEY YOU! You’re James Axton, right?? The screen writer??” More laughter. They are definitely drunk.

“James?” Alexander says, tightening his grip on James’ hand. “Can we go home?”

James walks faster. “Absolutely,” he says, scanning for their car. “As soon as we find the car.”

The footsteps grow nearer. The laughter grows louder.

“Is that your kid?” the same man calls out. “Is that your kid who got kidnapped?”

Alexander squeezes James’ hand even harder.

“Can we like, have his autograph?” the man continues, sloppily starting to jog towards them. “I mean that kid is famous. I read that people only went to see that shitty movie because the kid almost died for it.” He laughs and slips on the ice.

“Yeah!” another one calls. “Was that like a publicity stunt or something? Fucking genius, man. Fucking genius.”

Michael spins around to face them. “Go the fuck home,” he snarls.

The men all laugh. The one who had fallen gets up and dusts himself off.

“Oooo,” another says, taking a few steps forward. “Threatened by the cripple.” The other three sneer and pat him on the back like he’s a hero.

“Michael,” James says tightly. “Let’s just find the car and go.”

“James?” Alexander whispers. He’s shivering. James picks him up.

“Hey! We’re fucking talking to you!”

James looks over his shoulder to see them all jogging over. He tightens hold on Alexander.

“We just want an autograph! Fuck! Maybe a picture too because no-one will believe this shit really happened.”

More laughter. James spots the car in the distance.

“There,” he says to Michael, walking as quickly as he dares on the slippery ice. Alexander has buried his face in James’ hair.

“Hey wait! HEY!”

They’re almost at the car now. The men haven’t stopped pursuing them, but the alcohol has made them clumsy and they keep slipping on the icy pavement. James looks over his shoulder at Michael. He’s slower because of his leg.

“What kind of cupcake do you want?” James asks Alexander, ignoring the shouts of the men. Alexander doesn’t answer.

They reach the car. James pulls the keys out of his pocket and unlocks the passenger door, putting Alexander inside. Alexander clings to him for a moment, then lets him go and allows James to put him in his seat.

“Vanilla?” James asks, putting on Alexander’s seat belt for him. “With sprinkles?”

“HEY! WE WANT AN AUTOGRAPH! WE COULD SELL IT ON EBAY!”

James ignores them, though what he’d really like to do is snap their necks.

No, he thinks, shaking off the thought. Not while Alexander is here. Keep yourself together.


“We just need to wait for Uncle Michael to catch up,” he says to Alexander. “Then we can go get cupcakes and go home.”

Alexander nods. His face is the colour of ash.

Finally, Michael makes it to the car. He is holding onto his thigh and grimacing.

“Sorry, brother,” he says, out of breath.

One of the men gets to the car at the same time. “What the fuck, man??” he demands. He sways on his feet. “This is how you treat your fans??”

“Step off,” James says, closing Alexander’s door. “Go home. You’re drunk.”

The man laughs and looks between James and Michael.

“I am definitely drunk,” he slurs, putting his hand on the car to steady himself. “But I just want a picture with you and your kid. I mean fuck, man! That was all over Twitter for weeks! Hashtag Pray For James.” He laughs and pulls a box of cigarettes out of his pocket and puts one in his mouth. “You got a light?” he mumbles, holding it in his teeth.

James’ hand twitches. He glances at Alexander, who is watching the whole exchange through the window with wide, fearful eyes.

For him. Walk away for him.

He turns away and reaches for his door handle.

The man shoves the door shut as James tries to open it.

“Let’s take a selfie,” he says, grinning. The unlit cigarette hangs from his lips. His friends have arrived now. They stand back. The laughter has stopped.

“Look, just leave,” Michael says, walking around from the other side of the car. “Just go home. You’ve had your fun.”

“I want a fucking selfie,” the man says, aggressively now. “With you and that kid. Is it true that the kidnappers…” He leans in, lowering his voice. “You know. Violated him.”

Something inside James

snaps.

It takes him several seconds to even register that he has tackled the man to the ground and is punching him repeatedly in the face. The other three turn and run away, slipping on the ice so often that it is almost comical. 


Almost.

“J! JAMES!” Michael yells, pulling James to his feet. He is trembling violently.

“What the fuck, man??” the man cries, cowering behind his hands. “What the fuck?? I just wanted to meet your fucking kid!”

James lunges for him again, but Michael holds him back.

“Get out of here,” Michael spits, pushing his way between the two of them. “Now before I kick your fucking ass myself.”

The man doesn’t need to be told twice. He gets up and stumbles after his friends. Michael rounds on James.

“What the hell are you thinking??” he demands. James is still trembling. His hands are still balled into fists.

“You heard what that fucker said! You heard him!” He has an overwhelming desire to run after the men and tear them all limb from limb.

“He was drunk! He was just a drunken kid making bad decisions.”

“He said—”

“I heard what he said! But J, your kid is right there.” Michael looks at Alexander, who is hiding behind his hands. He takes a deep breath and turns back to James. “I get it, James. I get it. You’re full of rage. No-one can blame you for that, and no-one does. But this, this beating people up, this sneaking out at night and getting into bar fights—”

“How—”

“A friend of mine saw you,” Michael says, answering his question before he has even finished asking it. “A couple of times, actually.”

James looks down at his fists. He still wants to punch something. Someone.

“You don’t understand, Michael,” he says through clenched teeth. “This anger inside me…Sometimes it is all I can feel. Sometimes it is so strong and so dark that I don’t even know what to do with myself. Every single time I think about what happened, it is all I can do not to drive over to Rikers and tear Grady to shreds with my bare hands.”

“I know,” Michael says. “I get it. I thought maybe this vigilante business would help, that you’d work through this, but…” He shakes his head and meets James’ eyes. “You’ve got to get it together, J, before someone reports you to the police and you end up in jail.”

James clenches and unclenches his jaw, working to regain control of himself. “I don’t know how,” he admits finally. “Michael, I—”

“James?”

Alexander’s voice cuts through the anger and drains all the fight out of him. James uncurls his fists and yanks open the door.

“Alexander,” he says, taking Alexander’s hands away from his face. “It’s okay, buddy.” His voice cracks. “I’m sorry.” He wraps his arms around Alexander’s quivering body. “Oh God, I’m so sorry.”

Alexander holds onto him like he thinks he’s going to disappear.

“I’m sorry,” James repeats, feeling ashamed and frustrated. “I’m so sorry.”

“Can we go home?” Alexander whispers, still clinging to him.

“I’ll drive,” Michael says quietly.

James looks up. “You sure you can manage?”

Michael gets into the driver’s seat. “Yeah. I can manage.”

James can hear a heaviness behind Michael’s voice, but he doesn’t question him. Not now. He gets into the car and pulls Alexander into his arms.

“I’m sorry, buddy,” he says. “I’m so sorry.”

Alexander doesn’t answer. Instead he curls his fingers into James’ hair and leans against his chest. With his free hand, he pulls James’ arms tighter around him.

“I don’t want a cupcake,” he says, closing his eyes. “Let’s go home.”

James swallows. He tries not to let his pain come through in his voice. “Okay,” he says, silently counting Alexander’s heartbeats. “That’s okay.”

"Straight back?" Michael asks, starting the engine.

James nods. "Yeah. Straight home."

They drive back to their unit in silence.

******