He opens his eyes. The room is too bright. He closes them again.
“James? Are you awake? Can you hear me?”
His brain connects the voice to a face.
He opens his eyes. “Mom,” he whispers. She tries to smile.
“Oh, honey. We have got to stop meeting like this.” She laughs nervously. She sounds like she’s been crying.
“Alexander,” James says groggily, trying to sit up. His body feels like it is made out of lead. “Where’s…Alexander…”
Elizabeth puts her hand over his. “He’s still in surgery. Michael is too. I just arrived. As soon as I got the call I…” Her voice trails off and she shakes her head, squeezing his hand. “You’re okay,” she whispers, biting her trembling lip. “You’re okay.”
James wants to ask her more, wants to tell her to take him to see Alexander, to see Michael, but he barely has the energy to keep his eyes open.
“Mom…” he starts, but the rest of the sentence is lost as he slips back into the darkness.
My angel is with your angel. They fit together, just like us.
He opens his eyes, searching for Alexander.
He is alone.
He tries to sit up. Pain shoots through his left side. He looks down to see that his shoulder wrapped in gauze and his arm is in a sling.
Hospital. I’m in the hospital.
He bites his cheek and sits up, stifling a cry of pain. He pulls the heart rate monitor off his finger and switches off the machine before it starts to squeal. He grips the IV drip trolley beside him and swings his legs over the edge of the bed, standing up. He drags the trolley with him as he leaves the room, using it for support. He takes a few steps out of the room and looks around. He shuffles towards the nurses’ station.
“Excuse me,” he says gruffly. He clears his throat. “Excuse me.”
None of the nurses look up, all too preoccupied to notice him. He tries again.
“Just a minute, darlin’,” a nurse says, holding up her index finger without looking at him.
“HEY!” James slams his fist down on the counter, sending a shockwave of pain through his upper body. Everyone stops and looks at him.
“Mr Axton!” one of the nurses says, standing up. “What are you doing out of bed??”
“I need to see my son,” he says, gripping the IV trolley. “I need to see him and I need to see my brother. Now.”
“We’ve gotta get you back into bed,” the nurse says, coming around to his side of the counter. “Come on.” She tries to take his arm. He jerks away from her.
“I need,” he spits through clenched teeth, “to see my son.”
He whips around towards the sound of her voice. His mom hurries over to him.
“Oh, James,” she says, falling into his arms. “You’re awake.”
He hugs her with his right arm. “Alexander,” he mumbles into her hair. “Michael.”
“Michael is down the corridor,” she says, pulling away and wiping her eyes. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to leave you alone. They said I could see him, so I…” She takes a shuddering breath in. “I’m sorry for leaving you.”
“And Alexander?” James says, terrified by the look on her face. “Is he…Is he…”
“He’s still in surgery,” Elizabeth says, wiping her eyes again. “They gave me an update about two hours ago, but they didn’t tell me much. They said they were working on his arm.”
The room tilts. James grips the IV trolley.
“I want to see Michael,” he says, starting to walk in the general direction that Elizabeth came from. “Where is he? I want to see him.”
“Mr Axton,” says the nurse who tried to send him back to bed. “It’s not a good idea for you to be out of bed. You’ve just had surgery. You should be resting.”
James ignores her. “Where is Michael?” he repeats, turning to Elizabeth. “Which room? Is he awake?”
“James, the nurse said—”
“I don’t CARE!” He takes a second to compose himself. “I don’t care,” he repeats, softer this time. “I want my brother. Take me to him.”
Elizabeth looks like she wants to say no, but she wipes her eyes for a third time and turns to the nurse. “Can he walk?”
Elizabeth stares at her. “Then get him a wheelchair.”
The nurse opens her mouth to argue but the look on her face says she knows arguing would be useless. She leaves and returns a moment later with a wheelchair.
“I’ll take it from here,” Elizabeth says once James is in the chair. “If his doctor arrives or if he needs any medication, we will be in his brother’s room. Michael Axton.”
“Ma’am, I really don’t think this is a good idea. He really should be resting in bed.”
“Then set up another bed for him in Michael’s room,” Elizabeth snaps, starting to wheel James away. James holds onto the IV trolley, taking it with them, guessing it would be unwise to pull the drip from the back of his hand.
They arrive in Michael’s room. Michael is lying on the bed with his eyes closed. He looks small and young. His face is peaceful.
“What did the doctor say?” James asks as Elizabeth wheels him beside Michael’s bed.
Elizabeth lets out a tiny sob. The sound fills James with terror.
“Mom,” he says, terrified of her answer. “What did the doctor say?”
She swallows and tries to compose herself. “His…The muscles in his leg…They weren’t…They weren’t strong enough for all of this. It caused an infarction. Muscle death. The doctor’s tried to save his thigh, but…” She sobs again.
All the oxygen leaves James’ lungs. “He lost his leg??”
Elizabeth takes a jagged breath in. “No,” she says, giving up trying to wipe away the tears streaming down her face. “He still has his leg. But they removed the dead muscle.”
“What does that mean? How much of the muscle was dead?”
Elizabeth shakes her head as another round of sobs bubble to the surface. “All of it,” she whimpers, sinking down into the chair beside James. “They removed his entire thigh muscle. His quadriceps.”
James turns to her, staring at her without seeing her. “How is he going to walk without his thigh muscle?” His voice is barely above a whisper. “How is he going to walk with no muscle in his leg?”
Elizabeth covers her face with her hands and continues to sob.
“He fought so hard to walk again the first time,” she sobs. “I don’t…I don’t know…I don’t know how he’s going to cope with this. This could send him back to…” The rest of the sentence is lost. James stares at her blankly for a few minutes as what she has said sinks in.
He won’t be able to walk.
He’ll be back in the wheelchair.
He swallows the wave of bile building in his throat and pulls Elizabeth’s hands away from her face.
“He will get through this,” he says roughly. “This won’t derail him. It won’t. He fought those demons and he won. He is so much stronger than you could even imagine. So much stronger than anyone I know. He will get through this. I know he will.”
“No,” James says, handing her a box of tissues from a tray beside Michael’s bed. “No buts. He will get through this. He will. He will. He will.”
James looks up. A nurse is standing in the doorway.
“Your son is out of surgery. He’s in the ICU. I can take you up there to see him, if you’d like.”
The blood drains from James’ face. His body turns cold.
The nurse nods. “Dr Williams will explain when you see him. Would you like to go now, or stay with your brother?”
“Now,” James says. His body feels even colder. “Right now.”
Elizabeth stands up.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but it’s just the boy’s father at this stage. You will be able to visit in a few hours.”
“Stay with Michael,” James says faintly. “He’ll need you when he wakes up.”
“You need me too,” Elizabeth says. Her lip trembles.
“I have Alexander.” He feels light-headed. “I’ll be okay.”
Elizabeth sits down. The nurse takes the handles of James’ wheelchair.
“You won’t be able to stay long,” he says, wheeling James out of the room. “First visits are limited to ten minutes. But you’ll be able to speak to his doctor and ask any questions you may have. One of the nurses upstairs will brief you on what to expect when you see him.” They enter the elevator. “Are you ready?”
It takes James a few seconds to find his voice.
“Yes,” he says, gripping the IV trolley so hard that his knuckles turn white. “I’m ready. Take me to my son.”