Parts 1-41 are here. Thank you SO much for reading Xo]
Alexander giggles, winding his hand into James’ hair.
Your face is furry.
Oh? Is it?
James rubs his face against Alexander’s neck.
Does that tickle?
Alexander squeals and tries to squirm away.
Stop it, James, he says, giggling. Stop it. James. James. James.
James opens his eyes. For a moment he has no idea where he is. He sits up and looks around. He registers the sound of the heart rate monitor, beeping out a steady rhythm. His brain catches up.
I’m with Alexander.
He lets go of Alexander’s hand and rubs the sleep out of his eyes. He turns towards Michael. He’s gone, but there’s a note scribbled on the back of a blank chart on the chair beside James.
They made me go downstairs to get back into bed. I tried to refuse, but you know how persuasive Mom can be. I told her the good news. She cried. She didn’t want to wake you, but she said she’ll come up to see you both when you wake up. Just tell Violet to call her.
You better come see me today. While I’m conscious.
James smiles and folds the note, putting it in his pocket.
The word is so quiet that James isn’t even sure he heard it. He looks over at the door, checking if anyone has come in.
James’ heart skips several beats. He’d know that voice anywhere. He whips around to face him.
“Alexander,” he breathes. “Alexander.”
Alexander clumsily reaches for the mask on his face and tries to take it off.
“No buddy,” James says, stopping him. “You need that. It’s helping you.”
“James,” Alexander says again, coughing. “Daddy.”
“I’m here,” he whispers, holding Alexander’s hand against his heart. “I’m here, buddy. I’m here.” He closes his eyes, silently thanking God. “I’m here,” he repeats. “I’m here.” He opens his eyes. “Are you in pain?” he asks, searching Alexander’s face for any sign that he might be. “Are you okay??”
“Daddy,” Alexander says again. His eyes fill with tears.
James starts to panic.
“I NEED HELP!” he yells in the direction of the door. “I NEED—” He remembers that there is a call button beside the bed and he lets go of Alexander’s hand long enough to slam it with more force than necessary. Within a few seconds Violet rips open the door and races over to them.
“What is it?!” she asks breathlessly. “What’s wrong?!”
When she sees that Alexander’s eyes are open she gasps, covering her mouth. “I’ll page Dr Williams,” she says, pulling her pager out of her pocket. A moment later she puts her stethoscope on Alexander’s chest, listening. James holds his breath.
Dr Williams arrives. “Fill me in,” he says, striding over. He stops short when he sees Alexander. “Alexander!” he exclaims, beaming and coming towards them. “Welcome back!”
“Where are we?” Alexander looks fearfully between Violet and Dr Williams.
“We’re in the hospital,” James says. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re safe. We’re safe. The doctor just needs to see how you’re doing.”
Alexander looks at Dr Williams uncertainly. “Can I have a drink first?”
“Of course.” James reaches for a plastic cup on the tray beside Alexander’s bed. He fills it with water from the jug on the table and helps Alexander move his oxygen mask aside to take a few sips through the straw.
“Hello Alexander,” Dr Williams says kindly, approaching the bed as James puts the cup down and adjusts Alexander’s oxygen mask. “I’m Dr Williams. I’ve been taking care of you. I need to ask you a few questions to see how you’re feeling. Is that okay?”
Alexander looks at James. James gives him a reassuring smile. He turns back to Dr Williams and nods.
“Great,” Dr Williams says, pulling a light out of his pocket and holding it in front of Alexander’s eyes. “See if you can follow this light for me.” He shines it into Alexander’s eyes and moves it slowly. Alexander tracks the movement. Dr Williams’ smile widens. "Your throat is probably a little sore right now so I don’t want you to talk much, but I have a few questions for you, okay?”
Alexander stares at him. After a moment, he nods. His fingers curl around James’ hand.
Dr Williams puts the light away and glances at James. James understands.
Please buddy, he prays, squeezing Alexander’s hand. Please.
“Alright,” Dr Williams starts. “Can you tell me your name?”
Alexander’s voice is barely above a whisper. “Alexander Saunders-Axton.”
“Good,” Dr Williams says encouragingly. “Good. How old are you?”
Alexander coughs. “Nine.”
“Can you tell me who this is?” Dr Williams asks, pointing at James.
Alexander stares at James. “My daddy. His name is James. He loves me.”
Dr Williams nods, still smiling. He picks up the cup from the tray beside the bed and holds up. “Can you tell me what this is?”
Dr Williams puts it down and points to a giraffe sewn onto the pocket of his lab coat. “Can you tell me what kind of animal this is?”
Alexander squints. “A giraffe. But giraffes walk on four legs, not two.”
Dr Williams laughs. “Very true,” he says, walking over to the foot of Alexander’s bed. He pulls back the blankets, exposing Alexander’s feet. He pulls a pen out of his pocket and runs it down the sole of Alexander’s right foot. Alexander jerks away.
“Does that tickle?”
Alexander nods. Dr Williams smiles and does the same on Alexander’s left foot. His foot twitches, but he doesn’t jerk away in the same way. James tries to read Dr Williams’ expression, but his face gives nothing away.
“Did that tickle?” Dr Williams asks.
Alexander hesitates, then nods slowly.
“What does that mean?” James asks.
Dr Williams moves to the top of the bed.
“I’ll need his hand,” he says to James. James lets go and Dr Williams puts two fingers against both of Alexander’s palms. “Squeeze my fingers as hard as you can,” he says. He glances at Alexander’s cast. “But if it starts to hurt, stop.”
Alexander looks at James. James gives him an encouraging nod. He squeezes Dr Williams’ fingers.
“Okay,” Dr Williams says after a minute, taking his hands away. “Great job, Alexander. Well done.” His smile has faded slightly. He picks up Alexander’s chart and writes something down. When he’s finished he turns to Violet.
“Soft food only today,” he says, putting the chart away and changing the settings on Alexander’s IV drip. “And check his catheter. We should be able to remove it later today.”
Violet nods. Dr Williams turns to James. “Can I see you outside for a moment?”
“I’ll be right back, buddy,” James says to Alexander, even though the thought of being away from him for even a minute is horrifying. “I just need to talk to your doctor.”
“Are we home now?” Alexander asks. “Are we out of the snow?”
James’ heart breaks. “Not quite, buddy,” he says, brushing the hair out of Alexander’s eyes. “But soon. We have to stay in the hospital for a little while longer, okay? Then we can go home. I will take you home soon, I promise.”
“A James soon?” Alexander whispers, coughing.
James tries to smile. “No, buddy. Not a James soon.”
Alexander nods. His eyelids begin to droop. James forces himself to follow Dr Williams into the corridor.
“How is he? Is he okay??” James asks as soon as they leave the room. “He was answering your questions and speaking well and he knew his name and who I was so his brain is okay, right? His brain is okay?”
“Yes,” Dr Williams says, putting his hand on James’ arm. “His cognitive brain function seems to be okay.”
“Oh thank God,” James says, doubling over and leaning his hands on his knees for support. The relief knocks the air out of his lungs. “Thank God.”
“Are you okay?” Dr Williams asks.
“Yeah,” James says, breathing deeply. “I just need a moment.” After a few seconds he straightens up. “His foot,” he says, still breathing unevenly. “His left foot didn’t move the same way as his right. What does that mean?”
Dr Williams nods. “When I asked him to squeeze my fingers, I noticed a similar weakness in his left hand. It could be nothing, but it’s something to keep an eye on. There’s no need to panic about it right now, but we do need to watch how it develops. It may go away on its own, or it may be something we need to address.”
“Okay,” James says, feeling slightly less relieved. “Alright.”
Dr Williams smiles kindly. “Mr Axton, I can assure you that this is good news. If he did suffer some damage to the right side of his brain, we will address it and work to minimise the effects. But as I said, his cognitive skills are undamaged. That is the most important thing.”
James tries to breathe normally. “He’s still coughing. Why is he still coughing?”
“His lungs were damaged by the embolism. They should heal in time, but he’ll need to stay on oxygen until they do.”
“How long will that take?”
“It’s difficult to say. We’ll know more once we run a few tests. Now that he’s off the ventilator we will get a clearer picture of how his lungs are doing.”
James nods and looks at the door. The knowledge that Alexander is awake on the other side makes him want to rip it off its hinges and burst inside. “Is there anything else?”
Dr Williams shakes his head. “No. That’s all I wanted to discuss for now.” He opens the door. “Go on. Go spend some time with your son.”
James doesn’t need to be told twice. He walks in just as Violet is leaving. Her face reflects the happiness he feels. He holds her gaze for a moment.
“Thank you,” he says softly.
She smiles. “I can give your brother and mother a call if you’d like.”
James’ heart practically soars at the thought. The look on his face gives her his answer.
“I’ll go do it right now,” she says, holding the door open. “Congratulations, Mr Axton. I knew he’d pull through. I could feel it.”
James wants to hug her. He just wants to hug someone. He wants to jump up and punch his fist in the air. He wants to sing. He wants to dance. He wants to weep with joy.
Alexander’s voice is louder than it was before. James practically runs over to him.
“I’m back, buddy,” he says, dropping into the chair beside him and taking his hand. “I’m right here.”
Alexander smiles. His eyes close, but he forces them back open. “Where’s Uncle Michael? I heard him before.”
Alexander nods sleepily and yawns. “He said…He said he missed me. You both did.”
The desire to weep intensifies. “We did miss you,” James says, leaning over Alexander’s bed in an effort to get closer to him. He wishes he had use of his left arm. He wants to gather Alexander into his arms and never let him go. “We missed you so much.”
“It was dark,” Alexander says, starting to drift off. “It was dark but I wasn’t scared. It’s not scary when we’re together.”
“Where was dark?” James prompts. “What could you see?”
“Nothing,” Alexander mumbles. “But I could hear you.” He yawns again. “I’m sleepy.”
James awkwardly puts his arm around Alexander’s shoulders, careful not to disturb his IV or heart rate monitor. “Go to sleep, buddy. I’ll still be here when you wake up.”
“I know,” Alexander mumbles. “You never…” His eyes close. “…Leave me.”
He snuggles closer to James and winds his hand into his hair, twirling it around his fingers as he drifts off to sleep.