Monday, 30 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-Seven

[My Internet really did die.
The irony is not lost on me.
Buuuut it's back now so please accept my sincerest apologies for the wait in the form of a bonus post on this most holy day.

Parts 1-26 are here. Thank you so much for reading Xo

Ps, If you missed the exciting announcement, I'm now on Tumblr too! Huzzah! You should all come love me over there, too :p That is if you aren't sick of me yet. I'm still learning how to tumbl[r] so please forgive my ugly theme. I am working on it Xo]



"What were you going to say before?” Michael asks once Alexander is asleep again. “Before Alexander came out?”

“What?”

“I asked you if you wanted an out, and you said of course not, but sometimes…Sometimes what?”

James feels Alexander’s heart beating against his. “I don’t remember,” he lies.

Michael isn’t fooled. “J. Come on. You have to talk about this. You can’t keep it all inside. It isn’t healthy. You can’t move on until you start to deal with what happened.”

“Move on,” James repeats. “Move on? You think there is a move on from this? You think there will come a time when I’m not terrified that I’ll never see him again every time he leaves the house? You think there will ever be a time when the nightmares stop, for either of us?” He meets Michael’s gaze. “No, Michael. No. There is no move on. There’s cope with. And somewhat function normally. But there is no move on. There is no get better.”

“That’s how you feel now,” Michael says. “But people move on. Life moves on. It won’t feel this bad forever. I promise you it won’t. Hell, look at me. I thought I’d never move on from my problems. I thought I’d be strung out and drunk forever.” Michael looks at his hands and lowers his voice. “Do you know that night I came over? The night I…” He clears his throat. “I wasn’t just drunk, J. I was high too. I hadn’t been back on it for long, but…” He shakes his head. “I didn’t think I’d ever tell you that."

James is silent for a long time. “Coke?” he asks finally, remembering how the two of them spent a few dark months of their youth working for the drug dealers who lived around the corner. James had tried it once. Michael only managed to kick the habit after he spent a year in juvie for stealing a car.

Michael shakes his head. “Xanax. I got a prescription to calm me down and help me sleep better, you know, and…” He runs his hand through his hair. “I couldn’t be trusted with it.”

“Jesus,” James says softly. “I’m sorry.”

Michael looks up. “Why would you be sorry?”

“Because…I knew. I knew things were bad and I didn’t confront you. I didn’t know they were that bad; I didn’t know you were using again, but I…I knew you were struggling and I didn’t say anything. I guess I didn’t know how to or didn’t know what to say or was just trying to avoid an argument…” He breathes out. “I don’t know. I’m just sorry I wasn’t there for you.” He looks at Alexander. “Michael…” he says softly. He has to ask. He has to know. “When you were…When you were on the cliff…” He tightens his jaw. “When you made that decision to let go –”

“I was worried the whole thing would collapse and we’d both be killed,” Michael interrupts. “I was trying to save you.”

James nods and looks up. “I know. I know. But do you think…Do you think that maybe, just maybe, there was something more that made you let go? Do you think that maybe you…” His voice trails off. He doesn’t need to say it. He doesn’t want to say it.

Michael holds his gaze for a few moments before answering. “Okay maybe,” he says softly. “Maybe part of me thought that if…If I went that way…If I died so you could live, maybe it would make up for all the bad shit I’ve done in my life. Maybe it would somehow make it okay. And also…I wouldn’t have a chance to fuck up again. I wouldn’t have a chance to disappoint you again.” He turns away.

James stares at him. There’s a hollowness in the pit of his stomach.

“I’m sorry,” James whispers again. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me the most. I’m so sorry, but Michael, you have never disappointed me. You’ve worried me. You’ve scared me. Hell, you’ve angered me. But you have never disappointed me. We grew up in the same house, remember? I understand why you do what you do. We both know I’ve done some bad shit in my life too. I could never be disappointed in you. If anything I’m disappointed in myself for not being there for you. For letting you struggle alone for so long.”

Michael turns back to him and gives him a small smile. “You were there for me, though. That’s the point. As I said before, you are the reason I was able to pull myself together. You, James. And now I don’t feel the way I did then. I don’t spend every day searching for my next fix. I’m no longer going out to clubs every night and buying pills off the guys I met in juvie. I may not have been on coke or meth yet, but that’s where I was headed. That’s what would have happened if I hadn’t dealt with what was going on. You gave me the reason to do that. You gave me the strength I needed to pull myself together. But you’re right; it hasn’t gone away entirely. I still struggle with it every day. Every day is still a matter of cope with or function somewhat normally. But every day it gets a little easier. Every day looks a little brighter. That’s how it will be for you, too. I can promise you that. You think you’re alone in this, that you have to deal with it by yourself, but you’re not and you don’t. One of the strongest things you can do is ask for help when you’re not coping. You taught me that.”

“You’ve always been stronger than me, Michael,” James says, lowering his gaze. “And I don’t know if…” He hesistates. “I don’t know if I can get through this. I really don’t. Every time I close my eyes, it’s like I’m back at the boatsheds.” He chews the inside of his cheek. “I see him standing there. Full of terror. Bruised and beaten. Small and alone. I did that to him. Me. How am I meant to live with myself after that? How am I supposed to move on knowing that I am responsible for the worst thing that ever happened to the person who I love the most in this world? How??”

“You start by accepting that it wasn’t your fault,” Michael says gently. "You can’t blame yourself for what those weak, pathetic excuses for human beings did. You took Alexander out of a hellish situation with that scumbag who called himself a father. Don’t discount that. Who knows where Alexander would be right now if it wasn’t for you.”

“He wouldn’t be lost in the snow with a broken arm and a fever,” James says bitterly.

“True. He wouldn’t be here. He would be with that piece of trash who was refusing to feed him. Do you remember that? Do you remember how underweight he was? Do you remember his bruises?”

James reluctantly nods. He'd rather forget.

“Exactly,” Michael continues. “That piece of trash was so much like our stepfather. So much like him. You took Alexander out of there, J. You saved him. Remember how we would hide under our beds at night and pray for someone to rescue us while that piece of shit beat our mother up and down the corridor? How he’d come into our room once she’d passed out, looking for a new punching bag? How he’d –”

“Stop,” James whispers. “Please stop.”

“I’m just trying to make you see. I’m just trying to make you see that what you did for Alexander was what we always hoped someone would do for us. He probably prayed for someone to save him like we did. And you did. No matter what has happened since then, you did. You saved him, J. You gave him a safe place to grow up. You showed him that he is loved and valued. You did that. You can’t possibly let things that are out of your control take that away from you. From him.”

“I need him to be okay.” James stares at a loose thread on one of the blankets. “I just need him to be okay and healthy. Happy. I have never wanted anything more in my life.”

Michael nods. “I know, J. I know. But he can’t be happy while you’re in this state. He’s a smart kid. He knows you’re not okay. And just like you can’t be okay when he’s hurting, he can’t be okay while you’re hurting. You have to start fixing what’s broken inside you. You have to face the darkness and overcome it.” He looks  at Alexander. “Both of you do.”

James takes an unsteady breath in. “I’m not…I’m not sure how to do that.”

“You talk about it. You admit how you feel without feeling ashamed for feeling that way. You can’t face what you don’t acknowledge.”

“I feel…” He searches inside himself for the real answer. The one he’s been afraid to even think up until now, as though thinking the words out loud would somehow make them real. “I feel like…” He tugs the lose thread on the blanket. His voice is barely audible. “I feel like I almost wish we had died. Both of us. Some days I almost feel like that would have been better if we had died together and didn’t have to live through this aftermath. This pain. God, I’m a terrible person.” He doesn’t look at Michael. He’s afraid to see the disappointment in his eyes. The horror at what he’s just said. He wishes he could take it back. Rewind time and never say it.

“Look at me,” Michael says. “James. Look at me.”

James hesitantly raises his eyes.

“You are not a terrible person. You are not. You went through something beyond horrifying. Every parent’s worst nightmare. Hell, every person’s worst nightmare. To have the person you love taken from you and hurt in that way…It would drive anyone to do and feel irrational things. Then just when you started to put your life back together, some fucking moron decided to pull the rug out from under you. Honestly I can’t even think about that Dr Tate without wanting to take a baseball bat to his fucking knee caps.”

James shakes his head. “I don’t mean I wish Alexander was…” He can’t even bring himself to say it. “I don’t mean that. I just mean…Watching him going through all this pain…Hearing him scream night after night…Seeing how this has…How this has broken him…” He bites his trembling lip. “Sometimes I just wonder if it would have been better if…If…” He can't say it. “I don’t know, Michael. I even don’t know what I’m saying. This is all so fucked up. All of it. I would do anything to take this pain away from him. Anything.”

“Yeah,” Michael says softly. “I know. But this, what you’re doing, keeping it all inside…It isn’t helping him. It isn’t helping either of you.”

“So what do I do?”

“You keep talking about it. You trust people to help you. Me. Mom. Maybe a professional down the line. You stop pretending that you have got it under control when you so clearly don’t. You start to face what happened head on, and you help Alexander to do the same. This isn’t the end of your story, J. It’s not over yet. You are not going to be broken forever and you are not alone in this.”

James runs his fingers through Alexander's hair. “Michael, I…”

Michael smiles. “I know, brother. I know.”

James smiles back. Alexander stirs and rolls closer to him. James looks down as his head lolls to the side. His hair falls away from his neck.

James’ smile falters and falls from his face. His breath sticks in his throat.

A thick, red rash creeps its way down the right side of Alexander neck, winding over his shoulder and under his sweater.

“Michael. Michael, something’s wrong. He has a…He has a…”

“Rash,” Michael says, paling. “He has a rash.”

******