It’s dark by the time Alexander wakes up again. He yawns and sits up, looking around the room in a panic.
“I’m right here, buddy,” James says beside him. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”
Alexander turns towards him. His face breaks into a smile.
“Oh,” he says, lying back down. “I thought it was a dream again.”
He feels Alexander nod. “I tried to sleep a lot when you were gone. So we could be together in my dreams.”
James sighs and closes his eyes. “Well we’re together now,” he says, rubbing Alexander’s back. “I’m sorry I had to leave you. I didn’t want to.”
Alexander twirls the ends of James’ hair. “I know,” he says, wriggling closer to him. He rests his head against James’ chest. “Is Uncle Michael better now? Can he come and see me? Can we all go home together?”
The peace James had been feeling dissolves and is replaced by a knot of fear and anxiety.
“He’s not better yet,” he says quietly. “But he will be soon and then we’ll all go home. We’ll go home soon.”
“A James soon?”
James doesn’t answer. He doesn’t have an answer to give. There’s a knock on the door, saving him from trying to find one.
“Dinner,” a new nurse says, coming inside. He turns on the light and sets down two trays on the table beside Alexander’s bed. James tries to extract himself from Alexander’s hold.
“No,” Alexander pleads, holding onto him. “Don’t go!”
“I’m not leaving,” James says, hugging him. “I just need to move so you can eat your dinner. I’ll still be in here with you.”
Alexander looks uncertain.
“It’s okay, buddy,” James says, brushing back his fringe. “I’ll lie down with you again after you have dinner, okay?”
Alexander reluctantly lets go. James climbs out of bed.
“Violet told me you were the bravest kid she’d ever met,” the new nurse says, smiling. He adjusts the bed so that Alexander is sitting upright. “She said that you were her favourite patient.”
Alexander’s face brightens. “Really?”
The nurse nods and moves the table closer to Alexander so he can eat. “Yep. She also said you loved cupcakes, so…” He puts a cupcake down on Alexander’s tray. Alexander reaches for it.
“How about you eat your veggies first?” James says, laughing as he takes the plastic wrap off Alexander’s vegetable pasta. Alexander sighs and picks up his fork.
“This one is yours, Mr Axton,” the nurse says, handing James the second tray. “Violet let the downstairs staff know that you were here.”
James smiles and takes it gratefully. He’s barely eaten in four days.
“Hey!” Alexander says through a mouthful of pasta. “Your name is Alexander, too”
The nurse laughs and looks down at his name badge. “Yes it is. Alexander is the best name, right? But everyone calls me Xander. People only call me Alexander when I’m in trouble.”
Alexander looks thoughtful. “People call me Alex, but I like Alexander. The way James says it.”
Xander smiles. “Do you want me to call you Alex or Alexander?”
Alexander returns his attention to his food. “Whichever you want.”
Xander laughs and picks up his chart and checks the monitors.
“Well Alexander,” he says after a few minutes, returning the chart to its place, “I’ll be back to check on you later, okay?”
Alexander nods. He hasn’t taken his eyes off the cupcake.
Xander smiles and starts to leave.
“Wait,” James says, putting his untouched tray on the table and following Xander to the door. He glances at Alexander. He’s stopped eating.
“Eat your pasta, buddy,” he says. “I need to talk to Xander. I’ll just be out in the hallway.”
Alexander puts down his fork. He looks between James and Xander. “You’re not leaving?”
James shakes his head. “No, buddy. I’m not leaving. I’ll stay where you can see me, okay?”
Alexander chews his lower lip. “Okay.”
“Violet was right,” Xander says, opening the door. “You are a very brave kid.”
Xander and James go out into the hallway. James stays in Alexander’s line of sight.
“How is he doing?” he asks in a low voice. “Is he okay?”
Xander nods. “Dr Williams will go through the details with you tomorrow, but he is doing well. His heart rate, blood pressure and O2 levels are all good. He's stable. Kids are resilient. They bounce back quickly.”
“Okay,” James says, breathing out heavily. “Alright.” He peers into Alexander’s room. He’s resumed working through his pasta. “My brother,” James says, returning his focus to Xander. “I’m not allowed to see him because—”
“He has MRSA,” Xander says, nodding. “Violet briefed me on the situation. You want me to call down and get an update?”
“Yes please. I need to know how he’s doing.”
“Sure. Anything else I can help with?”
“No,” James says. “But thank you.”
“I’ll do it as soon as I’ve checked on my other patients. I’ll be back with an update when I can.”
“Thank you,” James says, going back into Alexander’s room. Alexander visibly relaxes as he walks through the door.
“Can I eat my cupcake now?” he asks as James sits down. James checks his pasta. He’s eaten most of it.
“Sure,” he says, moving his pasta out of the way. Alexander picks up the cupcake.
“Oh.” His face falls. “It’s chocolate.”
James laughs and unwraps his own pasta. “I’ll tell you what. When we go home I’ll buy you all the vanilla cupcakes you can eat.”
“No,” Alexander says, taking a bite of his chocolate cupcake. “Let’s make our own cupcakes. Those are better.”
An image of the lopsided, burnt cupcakes floats to the surface of James’ mind. “Oh buddy,” he says, chuckling. “Those cupcakes were burnt.”
Alexander shrugs. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, licking the frosting off his fingers. “We made them together. Everything is better when we’re together.”
“Yes it is,” James says, watching him awkwardly eat his cupcake with his left hand. “Everything is better when I’m with you.”
Alexander is asleep in James’ arms by the time Xander comes back. As soon as he enters the room, James knows something is very, very wrong.
“What is it?? What happened??”
Xander meets his panicked stare. “Mr Axton, your brother…He’s been moved to the ICU. The MRSA…” He looks at James sympathetically. “The infection has spread to his heart.”