Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Thirteen

[Parts 1-12 can be found here. Thank you for reading Xo]

By three pm, after they’ve made seven snowmen out the front of their unit, had three snowball fights and eaten all the cupcakes, it stops snowing.

“Can we go ice skating now?” Alexander asks, lying on his back in the snow angel James made.

James looks up at the sky. It is a glassy blue.

“Weather app says snow is done for today,” Michael says from his spot by the front door. “More forecast for the next four days, though…”

Alexander sits up and turns to James, who is making a snow castle beside him. “Please can we go today, James? Pretty please?”

James looks at the sky again. “It should be alright, right?” he says to Michael.

“Yeah,” Michael says. “Should be fine. We’ll leave if it starts to snow again and we’ll be back before it gets dark.”

“YESSS!” Alexander shouts, leaping up and running inside the house. James smiles and stands up. Michael drags himself to his feet by the door handle.

“Are you okay?” James asks, hurrying over to help him. “Your leg seems to be getting worse.”

Michael grimaces, but nods. “Yeah. I’m fine. It’s probably just the cold stiffening up my muscles. I’ll take a long bath tonight.”

James isn’t convinced. “Maybe you should stay here for this? It’s a pretty long walk to the outdoor ice skating arena.”

Michael shakes his head. “And miss Alexander’s first time ice skating? Not a chance. I’ll be fine, J. You worry too much.”

“We maybe we should drive then,” James says. “So you don’t have to walk so far.”

“Driving will take four times as long with the traffic and the route we’d have to take. I can walk, brother. Honestly. Just go get your ice skates and let’s go.” He leans on his cane and shuffles inside.

“Well where’s your Vicodin?” James asks, following him in. “We’d better bring extra just in case.”

Michael stops. “I…I uh, didn’t bring it.”

“What? Did you forget it? I’m sure we can call Dr Lane and –”

Michael turns to face him. “I didn’t forget it. I’m not taking it.”

James blinks. “What do you mean you aren’t taking it? You need it.”

Michael runs his hand through his hair. He looks at James for a long moment before answering. “I…I didn’t trust myself, J,” he says honestly. “It started to become…I was scared that if I kept taking it…” He looks down at his cane. “I’ve been off it for the last seven months. I stopped taking it the second the pain became bearable without it. My doctors know, but I didn’t want to tell you because I was afraid you might…” He lets the sentence hang.

“I might what?”

Michael raises his eyes. “I was afraid you might think less of me. I didn’t want to disappoint you. I was scared you might think I was weak for not being able to handle it. That maybe you’d be scared to let me see Alexander again. Like before.”

James stares at him. “Michael, I –”

“I’m ready!” Alexander calls as he bounds back over to them. He is holding Astro and his ice skates in one hand, and James’ ice skates in the other.

“Here’s yours!” he says, handing them to James.

James takes them without turning away from Michael. “Thanks, buddy.” He holds Michael’s gaze. “I’m proud of you."

“For finding my ice skates?” Alexander giggles. “They were in the cupboard where you put them.”

“Well good job for finding them,” Michael says, breaking away from James’ stare. “Let me get my woolly hat and gloves and we can get going. Are you excited?”

Alexander nods. His face radiates joy. Michael smiles and starts to walk away.

“Michael,” James says. Michael stops. James strides over and grabs him, hugging him tightly.

“I love you,” he says. “And I’m so proud of you. I could never think you’re weak. You’re the strongest person I know.” James lets him go and steps back. He feels close to tears.

“Not so long ago,” Michael says, looking down at his leg, “this would have ended very differently. I needed a reason to change. I needed a reason to keep trying. To keep going. You gave me one.” He looks at Alexander, who is sitting on the floor and trying to put on one of his ice skates. “You both did. And I could never thank you enough for that.”

James hugs him again. “But what about the pain?” he asks after a moment, letting him go. “You have a reconstructed femur…”

Michael gives him a small smile. “There are worse pains to endure. Now we better get going before Alexander explodes out of his skin.”

James looks over at Alexander, who is now putting on his second ice skate. “Oh buddy,” he says, walking over to him. “You can’t wear those in here.”

“I know,” Alexander says, tying the shoe lace. “I just wanted to make sure they fitted.”

James chuckles. “We checked when we bought them. Remember?”

Alexander looks at him. “Yes,” he says seriously. “But I might have grown bigger.”

James sits on the floor in front of him and helps him take off the skates.

“That is a very good point,” he says, still smiling. “You are bigger every day.”

Michael stands by the front door, holding his phone in front of his face.

“Google maps says the arena is right over that slope,” he says, pointing to one a little way ahead of them. “That would probably be quicker than walking the streets. We could cut straight through. There’s a clear path. See?” He shows the phone to James.

“Up the slopes?” James asks doubtfully. “No, I think we should take the normal way.”

“Why? This way is way quicker and more fun. The slope we have to take isn’t too steep. It’s the same one you and Alexander were snowboarding on yesterday.”

“Yeah, and you were standing down the bottom.”

Michael laughs. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t climb the slope. The exercise would be good for my muscles anyway. I’m going stir crazy sitting around all the time.”

“You can still get exercise walking through the streets,” James says, taking Alexander’s rainbow-gloved hand. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“Oh don’t be ridiculous, J,” Michael says, still chuckling. “I’m not paralysed. I’ll be fine. Honestly I will be. And look.” He points to a few scattered people walking up the slope holding ice skates. “It’s the best way, brother. The quickest and the easiest. Practically a straight shot. My leg and I will be just fine, okay? And I mean if you want to get technical, the short route is actually the better option. Less walking.” He smirks like he knows he has won the argument.

He has.

“Oh okay,” James says, sighing. “Fine. But if it gets to be too much, we turn back. Are we clear?”

Michael chuckles and starts to walk. “Yes, brother,” he says, still smirking. “Crystal clear.”

About half way up the slope, it starts to snow again. Alexander looks at James.

“We don’t have to go home now, do we?” he asks sadly. James looks up at the sky. The clouds are scattered. The sun is still peeking through in some areas.

“Not yet,” he says, unable to face the disappointment on Alexander’s face. “It looks like it will clear up and the weather app says it’s not supposed to snow again today…” He takes out his phone to check. He has no signal. He turns to Michael. “Have you got a signal?”

Michael checks and shakes his head. “Nope, but the arena was a straight shot.” His breathing is heavy and laboured. “We should be able to see it once we get over the crest. It’s probably just all these pine trees blocking out the signal.”

James nods and keeps walking, but fifteen minutes later, he stops again.

“I don’t know, Mike,” he says, turning to face him. “We should have been at the top by now. It didn’t seem this high yesterday.”

“You didn’t go all the way to the top yesterday.”

“True, but still, I’m pretty certain I could see the top.” He looks around pointedly. “I can’t see anything but trees here, and there’s no one else around anymore. Let’s go back.”

“But…” Alexander starts. 

James crouches down to his level. “We’ll still go ice skating, buddy,” he says, adjusting Alexander’s beanie so it better covers his ears. “We’ll just have to drive or take a cab, which might take longer but it will be safer. Okay?”

Alexander looks disappointed, but he nods. “Okay. That’s okay.”

James smiles and dusts the snow out of Alexander’s fringe before standing up.

“Alright,” he says to Michael. “Let’s turn back. The snow is picking up anyway. I guess the weather app was wrong.”

“Shit,” Michael says. “That’s it.”

“What’s it?”

Michael looks up at the steadily increasing snow. “The snow fall. It snowed all night. It changed the layout of the slopes. I didn’t think about that.” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, J. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Ah…” James says. “Of course. No need to be sorry, brother. I didn’t think of it either. The downfall of living in sunny LA where it’s practically always seventy eight degrees. We don’t need to worry about things like that.” He smiles, though it’s mainly just to ease Michael’s guilt. “Come on, let’s get going before it gets too much heavier.”

They start to walk down the slope. The wind picks up, swirling icy snowflakes all around them. Alexander shivers. James adjusts the backpack he is carrying containing their ice skates and Astro and picks him up.

“It’s pretty cold, huh,” he says, raising his voice over the sound of the wind. “I can’t even feel my fingers!”

Alexander giggles and tries to make himself smaller.

“Fucking weather app!” Michael growls. “We should sue!”

James chuckles, but the amount that Alexander is shivering is starting to worry him. He wants to get back to the unit sooner rather than later.

“Are we going the right way?” James asks, looking up at the sky. Thick storm clouds have begun to gather. He holds Alexander tighter. Michael pulls out his phone.

“Still no signal,” he says, putting it back in his pocket. “We gotta get out of these trees.”

James looks around, trying to spot the lodge, the resort, other people, anything. All he can see is snow.

“I don’t think we walked through the trees for this long,” he says to Michael, putting his hand over Alexander’s head in an effort to keep him warm. “I think we’re going the wrong way.”

“We just turned around,” Michael says, looking back. “It was a straight shot. Surely we couldn’t…” His voice trails off. He doesn’t want to say it.

There’s a rumble in the distance.

“We need to get out of here,” James says, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. “And fast.”

He holds Alexander closer and picks up the pace as much as he can without leaving Michael behind, but he has no idea where they are going. The clouds have dropped, creating a thick, dense fog. Endless nothingness whirls before them. Even the trees are hidden. Finally James stops, paralysed by indecision. He turns to Michael. Pain is etched across his face.

“Michael,” James says, desperately looking around for any kind of landmark. “I think…” He can’t bring himself to say it. He tries again. “I think…I think we’re…”

“Lost,” Alexander whispers. “We’re lost.”