Here we are.
This is the end I feel.
I'd just like to take a moment to say an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who has stuck by me and the Axton boys for the last five months (I'm including Silent Scream). I especially want to thank you all for being patient with me when I kept disappearing into the dark and twisty place and stopped posting for days on end. I am truly sorry for that. I tried to avoid it as much as I could.
I hope you've enjoyed this journey as much as I've enjoyed sharing it with you (not counting the dark and twisty days where I just wanted it to be over so I could disappear off the face of the planet forever). Sure, most of you hated me the majority of the time and hurled abuse at me, but we all know that tears and abuse are the highest compliment to me (I'm pretty screwed up, okay. This we know). This may be the end of the Axtons, but it is not the end of me causing you pain. I like making people cry waaaaay too much to stop. I have been working on a few things, but given that my brain is pretty broken right now, it might be a while before I'm ready to share them with you all. I hope it won't be so far in the future that you've all forgotten about me. You won't, right...?
One more thing before I let you suffer for the final time (assuming you've read this far): As a writer, I thrive on knowing what people think of my words. My only goal in writing is to write something that connects with people. Every time I start writing something new, J's speech from Artifact plays through my mind. That is what I want. That is what I aim to do. And in order to do that, I need to know how people are responding to what I've written. And so with that in mind, I'd like to say an extra big THANK YOU to those people who regularly tweet, DM, message and generally abuse me over my words. Thank you @livvii_liv, @albagallego15, @collinsgod, @KarenMills_6277, @iMorgana2 and @KailynBaudion (I think that's everyone...If I left you out, send me an abusive tweet and know that it was not intentional. It's late and my brain is broken.) And finally, the biggest THANK YOU goes to @cortana02 and @moon_cake1. Without these two amazing ladies, I never would have shared Silent Scream or Orange Sky. I probably wouldn't have even finished writing them without their constant
abuse encouragement. I'd also like to say an extra extra special thank you and I heart you to @cortana02. You know why. I don't know what I'd do without you.
Okay. Enough is enough. Here is it. The final chapter. I hope you like it. Parts 1-52 are here if you need to get caught up. As always, thank you so, so much for reading Xo
The sunlight assaults his pupils as he steps outside. He pulls his sunglasses from the collar of his t-shirt and puts them on. He takes a few steps forward and stops. He hears him before he sees him.
Alexander appears out of nowhere and barrels into him, engulfing him in a hug. He’s holding a melting ice cream cone.
“Grandma bought me an ice cream,” he says, letting James go. He wobbles slightly, regaining his balance. The weakness in his left side has become a permanent fixture in their lives.
Just another thing we lost, James thinks bitterly.
“I don’t really like ice cream,” he whispers, looking over his shoulder towards where James knows Elizabeth will be waiting. “I wanted a cupcake.”
James smiles. “Of course you did,” he says, ruffling Alexander’s hair. “Come on. How about we go buy the ingredients to make some when we get home?”
Alexander’s face lights up. “Yes!! Let’s go NOW!” He grabs James’ hand and tugs him towards the street. The sudden movement hurts his shoulder, but James doesn’t mind.
There are worse pains to endure.
They make their way over to the car, where Elizabeth is waiting.
“Sweetheart,” she says, opening the car door for James. “How was it?”
James shrugs and helps Alexander inside.
“Same as usual. Give me that,” he says, smiling at Alexander. He takes the ice cream cone and straightens up. “He doesn’t like ice cream,” he says to Elizabeth, trying to keep the smile in his voice. “He likes cupcakes.”
Elizabeth chuckles. “Yes. I noticed. I’m quite sure there’s not a person in LA who doesn’t know about this boy’s love for cupcakes.”
“I’ll eat it.”
James’ hand quivers.
“You already had one,” Elizabeth says, laughing.
“So? I’m forty-five, Mom, not five. I don’t need my sugar intake monitored.”
Elizabeth laughs again as Michael wheels over to them from the other side of the car.
“Actually I’d say you need it monitored now more than ever,” Elizabeth says, still laughing. “You are the textbook definition of a sugar fiend.”
Michael grins at her. She rolls her eyes and gets in the car.
“So?” Michael says, holding out his hand expectantly. “Let me have it. Or are you on Team Michael-eats-too-much-sugar?”
James hands it to him and avoids his gaze. Michael takes it and catches James’ wrist before he can leave.
“J.” The good humour has left his voice. “For God’s sake, look at me. I can’t stand this.”
James pulls his hand away. “Let’s go, Michael,” he says softly. “Mom’s waiting.”
He tries to walk away. Michael wheels into his path, deliberately bashing him in the shins.
The ice cream falls onto the pavement.
“Enough is enough, brother,” Michael says, narrowing his eyes. “I’m not getting into that car with you until you talk to me. Until you acknowledge that I exist!”
The hurt in his voice makes James look up. His stomach twists at the sight of him in that chair.
At the sight of the stub where his leg used to be.
“Michael,” James starts, but he doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. He’s been trying to find the right words for three months now. Nothing sounds right. What is he meant to say? What could he possibly say to take away all the pain he has caused?
“That is indeed my name,” Michael says, raising his eyebrow. “Are we gonna get any further than that today?”
James doesn’t answer.
“J,” Michael pleads. “Please. Talk to me. Don’t shut me out.”
James glances at the car. The windows are up, but he can still hear Alexander and Elizabeth singing along to the Frozen soundtrack. It amazes James that Alexander still likes the snow.
He hates it.
He turns back to Michael and takes a deep breath.
You promised honesty.
“I don’t know what to say to you,” he admits. “Every time I look at you, I am reminded of every mistake I made. Everything I took from you. Everything I took from Alexander.”
Michael sighs. “I thought we were past this. I thought you were done blaming yourself for things which you had no control over.”
“How can I not blame myself for this, Michael?? You nearly died! They had to cut you open and operate on your heart! Your fucking heart! And then before you’d even had a chance to recover from that, your leg—”
“Stop,” Michael says, holding up his hand. “Just stop it, J. I’m sick of this. I’m so sick of this, you have no idea. Look at me; I am still here. I didn’t die. Yet you insist on acting like I did. I’m goddamn fine, brother. My heart is good. My leg is probably worm food or cryogenically frozen for med students to dissect and add to their Frankenstein monsters, but I’m sure it’s good too. I am okay. No, look at me,” he says when James drops his gaze. “I didn’t die. My heart is still beating. So why are you treating me like a ghost?”
“Because it hurts,” James says before he has a chance to stop himself. “It hurts to look at you. It hurts to be near you.”
“Ouch, brother. So what, it’s easier to pretend I don’t exist? That eases your guilt?”
James feels a stab in his chest. “That’s not it at all!”
“Then enlighten me.” Michael folds him arms across his chest. “Because I’m done playing this game, J. I’ve lost a lot in the last fifteen months. I’m not about to lose my brother too. I didn’t fight so hard to stay alive only to have you slip away from me now. I know you’re getting counselling, and that is freaking fantastic, but you need the support of your family, J. That’s rehab one-oh-one. You can’t do this alone. And what’s more: You don’t have to. I’m here. Mom is here. Alexander is here. We’re all here, waiting for you to let us in. Waiting for you to let us help.”
James struggles to find the right words. He looks into the car. Elizabeth and Alexander are still singing. Alexander is giggling.
“How can you not blame me?” he asks, watching Alexander cover Elizabeth’s mouth with his hands as she deliberately sings the wrong lyrics. “How can you wake up every day and not hate me?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t hate you.”
James turns back to him. His eyes are alight with humour.
“I hate you all the time. I hate it when you get all control-freaky and edit a completed script for four hundred years. I hate it when I come over and you are out of coffee, or even worse, when you try to offer me instant coffee…Like why do you even have that filth in your house?? I hate it when you come over to my place and clean it while we talk. I like disorder and I like chaos. Stop trying to order me. I hate it when you give me long-ass lectures when I miss a deadline or make a typo. Seriously brother, I know how to use a semi-colon. You can stop teaching me that now. But most of all, I hate it when you shut me out and push me away. Like really, actually hate it. But as I’ve said before and I’ll say it again; you can push all you like, J. I am like the goddamn terminator. I won’t be moved. And,” his eyes glint mischievously. “I’m getting fitted for my bionic leg soon. I’ll be more terminator than ever!” He laughs.
“How can you be so okay with this?” James asks seriously. “It’s like it doesn’t affect you at all.”
Michael’s laughter fades. “It does affect me,” he says honestly. “But the way I see it, I have two choices: I can either lie in bed and wallow over a situation I cannot change, or I can get fitted with a bionic leg and use it to kick your ass up and down LA until you see how ridiculous you are being.” His grin returns. “And we both know how much I like to kick your ass.”
James almost smiles. “And you do it so well.”
Michael laughs. “He almost smiles. Progress. Come on,” he says, cocking his head towards the car. “We’d better save Mom from singing Let It Go for a fourth time.”
James watches him go, wondering how after everything he’s put him through, Michael hasn’t given up on him. Once Michael is inside the car, James puts his wheelchair in the boot.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Elizabeth asks, coming out to help him.
“Yes,” James says, meaning it for the first time in months. “I am.”
She smiles and gets back in the car. James follows her and slides in beside Alexander.
“Please, Uncle Michael,” Alexander is saying, leaning forward and hanging off Michael’s chair. “Pretty please?”
“Ugh,” Michael says, pretending to be disgusted. “FINE. But you get one song, kid. Make it a good one.”
Alexander grins. “Love is an open door.”
Michael laughs and shakes his head. “Freaking perfect, kid,” he says, putting it on. “Total genius.”
Alexander has stopped listening. He takes James’ arm and wraps it around himself, singing along.
“Where to?” Elizabeth asks, looking at James in the rear view mirror. “Do you want me to take you boys straight home?”
Alexander stops singing. “Cupcakes!” he says, playing with James’ fingers. “You said we could make cupcakes.”
“I did,” James says, resting back against the seat. For the first time in he doesn’t know how long, he almost feels relaxed. “Can you take us to the store first?” he asks Elizabeth.
She smiles. “Of course.”
“You can help us!” Alexander exclaims, sitting up straight in anticipation. “They can, right Dad? They can come over and make cupcakes with us, can’t they?”
James’ heart swells. For the first time since they’ve been home, it feels like it used to feel. In the before.
“Of course,” James says, scooting closer to Alexander. “We can all make and eat cupcakes together.”
After all, James thinks, listening to Alexander squeal in delight at the prospect of all those cupcakes. It’s not scary when we’re together.