"Skinned Knees and Apple Trees"
Roy remembered childhood more clearly than most people. He remembered scraping his knees nearly to the bone leaping over Mrs. Morrison's fence to steal some apples. He remembered his mother's gentle touch and the total security promised within it. He remembered wet sheets, wet dreams, and wet nights of thunder and light that drove him into the fortress that was his closet.
Perhaps that was why he had liked Alexandria. She had certainly been easy to talk to, even with the broken English and stops and starts. Her competition had been Walt and the old man so she might have just been benefiting from comparison, but he didn't think so.
She had giggled at everything - things she had liked, things she hadn't understood. She had never yelled, at least not to hurt - just to be heard when a horse got spooked and neighed over her voice. She had asked questions, content with any answer but always wanting an answer. She had never lied, at least not to manipulate - just to keep him safe.
More importantly when she had looked at him she had really looked - in a way that had been both gratifying and discomforting. She had listened to every word he said as if it were the only thing of importance to do, and had held his hand with caution and yet confidence all at once.
Roy had never thought of himself as a father. He was simply too young for it to even occur to him, even if recently every day of his life felt like a boulder on his back to carry forever up the hill. But she did - had. He had seen it in her eyes, in her reaching grasp as the doctors pulled her away to her real family where she wouldn't have one either.
Perhaps he loved her. But not like that. Because in the end, Roy didn't remember being a child. He was a child, and that was what had made things such a mess. Only a child couldn't have seen - no, an adult still acting like a child, because Alexandria had known in moments, just by a glimpse of his girlfriend in the car. Even children were smarter.
Stronger too, considering how many toddlers had finally mastered the first step.
Relax. That was all he was ever told, relax. Couldn't they see how contradictory that was? Relaxing was getting back to his bed, drawing the curtains and closing his eyes without horses running through his head. This was suffering - putting all of his will power into a set of legs that didn't even seem like his anymore on the off chance that maybe, maybe a trickle of it would get through and start him going.
He didn't say a word though. He just pulled himself up to try again.
"No, really, relax. That's enough for today. No use wreckin' something else."
Anger and relief mix in his gut and he wasn't quite sure which was more evident in his face. Probably anger, as the nurse looked away and fetched his wheelchair without another word. She wasn't a bad girl - lovely actually: a Southern belle, all curves and smiles and quirky expressions, but she was new. She knew only the stories of Roy Walker's Shameless Manipulation of an Innocent, Young Girl, and by now he could only guess how much truth there was to them. She didn't want to take any chances and he couldn't fault her for that. Children did terrible things in anger. Who knew what he could do?
She helped him into the chair without flinching at least and slowly, quietly, they made the long stroll back to his room. Now, he could relax, and there were days he only submitted to the useless suffering for these moments. He'd always hated California before this. It had been too hot, too dry, and too busy contemplating its own looks to ever worry about making itself into a presentable place to be. Not here though. Here there were trees and hills and this peaceful, small town feel that reminded him of home. Maybe that was more a reflection of him though than the hospital. Before this, he had never really looked.
At the very least, it was a nicer view than Walt and the old man's empty beds, and he wished he could have more time to look at it. It was only a five minute's journey back to his room though and with a sigh he sank into his bed.
"I'll be bringin' you your dinner shortly," the nurse said quickly, and she ducked out of the room before he could even give a response. Not that he would have given one, so he couldn't blame her. He was the one who created this routine, not her.
He lay back and the quiet surrounded him. In the morning there was at least some bustle: the passing of the ice man, the gossip of the nurses, but past three there was only this natural, enveloping silence. He had grown used to it; even when Alexandria had come, she would leave after lunch and was rarely allowed back. Being used to it didn't make the place any less quiet though and not for the first time he longed for a book, any book. The nurses didn't deny him them but they gave slower than he read so more often than not he had to go without.
He had tried to make his own story. The images certainly came - a waving flag, a toothy gin. But piecing them together proved impossible. A story just for himself just didn't seem to mean anything. He'd over-think it, in a surprisingly adult move - or maybe not. Children were the ones that asked why at every turn (aside from Alexandria, who only did at the end, and justifiably so) and that was all he seemed to do. Why were they looking for a treasure? He was a bandit; why didn't he just steal some money? Why didn't his daughter complain? And where was her mother?
It'd be better if the images didn't come, but they didn't seem to care how he felt. Even now, closing his eyes, he could see her, taking the mask and spinning it by the string, round and round and round.
His eyes opened to a whisper not his own. Inside the room? No, not that he could see. Outside, in the courtyard then, and his guess was confirmed as he heard a hushed Southern twang respond, "Room's all filled with patients, honey. You don't wanna bother 'em, they need their rest."
"But I just want to see it." The words stop and start, an accent separating the syllables in a way he instantly recognized. It wasn't possible, but he did.
He needed to check.
He looked behind him, confirming that the curtain was only half drawn, and then looked beside him to the bedside table. Nothing on the surface, but pulling out the drawer he saw it - an old mirror left behind by some long gone patient. He picked it up and turned it to reflect him, then the window, as he slowly tried to achieve the proper angle.
"Why do you want to see it, honey? It's just a room."
No such luck. Wherever the two were, they weren't in his immediate line of sight. If he could somehow shift himself though ...
"Why don't I just take you on back to your mama, huh?"
He looked at the curtain, then at the rod. It didn't look very sturdy - thin and cheap, maybe even hollow for all he knew. But hopefully it'd be just enough. With only a moment's hesitation, he grabbed at the white cloth with both hands and pulled, just enough to raise himself up and to the side. He half-expected to just fall right there, but though he shook and squirmed, he stayed. His arms were like rubber though, still tired from the attempt to walk and already desperate to give in. Part of him couldn't help but think he should.
"That's right, that's a good girl."
And the rest of him knew that he couldn't. Time for the next step. Strengthening his grip, he twisted the mirror in his hands to keep it upright, then slowly moved it to catch a glimpse, anything that was out of the ordinary.
Tree ... tree ... building ... grey?
It was too far out - or maybe he was too weak. The reason didn't matter; he fell, a solid thump resounding as his knees hit smack against the wood.
He could hear the nurse whisper a quick "Oh, hell" before her footsteps picked up. He didn't know why. It wasn't like it could hurt. He rearranged his legs to looks more like legs and not twisted flesh. He'd scraped his knees, but there wasn't any blood, thankfully.
It'd have made it hard to explain.
His breath caught in his throat, cut off by a swallow.
She had grown. Somehow he'd expected her to look the same, to always be that short little waddling girl with the two braids, but she'd been smack in the middle of that transformation stage of childhood and it'd been a whole year since that. She was taller and leaner, and her hair joined in one long braid that made her seem older than she was.
She smiled, a different tooth missing, and he couldn't help but do the same as she ran to him and exclaimed again. "Roy!"
"Alexandria," he greeted, as she sat down next to him. "Still looking for that message?"
She giggled and his smile grew, but slowly confusion narrowed her eyes,
"Why are you here? What about the pictures?"
"Yes, the pictures. I saw you and you were getting hit and falling from the train - I like that one."
He watched her, struggling to understand, when it suddenly clicked. She thought he was better. Maybe it'd been a story her mother told to help her move on, or something she'd created herself, but she believed it.
His smile wavered; but only for a moment. "You liked it?"
"Good. I'm glad."
He'd just have to let her think it. Children grew up, mostly; no need to do that to her now. If that was what she believed, he wasn't going to take that from her.
And spotting the nurse in the doorway, he decided he wasn't about to let her do it either. "The doctors weren't too pleased about it though. Isn't that right, Nurse Dana?"
The nurse looked mortified at the idea of being included in this little lie, and Roy almost felt guilty. She still didn't know, not a thing, and was just trying her best to protect Alexandria too. For a second he wondered if she would decide to out him, as she straightened and carefully analyzed the pair. The smile on his face. The nervous tic in his hand.
The way Alexandria leaned against him like she belonged there.
"We did try and warn you, Mr. Walker. And now look at what's happened. She can't even visit because you need your rest."
"Was that what you were doing?" Roy directed to Alexandria, who smiled, unaware of the silent communication going on above her head:
Now tell her to leave.
In a minute.
"Yes. My mother take - she took me. She is in the city for shopping, and I said I wanted to see."
"You get to come all the way here to the city and you want to see a hospital?"
"Yes." Like it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Mr. Walker," the nurse tried vocally, and Roy cut her off with a grin.
"At least until dinner, nurse. I'm not going to sleep any until then."
The edges of her lips wavered, not sure whether they wanted to go up or down, but she nodded. Suddenly, an upturn. "You won't mind if I stay here then?"
"Not at all. Do you mind, Alexandria?"
She shook her head, her braid waving in the movement, and moved to sit on his lap. "Will you tell me a story?"
He laughed, but it came easily, as if moving on its own power.
"The Bandit's Daughter takes off the mask and spins it, round and round and round. They're in the desert, traveling to a hidden fortress in the east, but for now they're just resting. She loves playing with their masks, now that they don't need them anymore, and lacking toys she transforms them into trapeze artists, stretching his arms wide to perform tremendous feats."
He paused, gauging her reaction; she was already hooked. As if it were the only thing of importance to do.
"But this quiet," he continued, "was not to remain undisturbed. A single horse, black as a starless night, rides close, driving The Bandit to stand in front of his daughter, ready to protect her against anything ..."
"You're never goin' to make an honest man outta yourself if you don't start relaxin', Mr. Walker."
The nurse helped him back into the chair, but didn't roll him out. Rather, she pulled up another chair for herself and sat across from him. "You keep gettin' too upset with yourself," she continued. "Like there were something standin' in the middle between not tryin' and tryin' too hard."
"Well, that thing isn't me," he said, still somewhere between amused and curious by this sudden - if still slow and hesitant - warmth towards him. Certainly a cute little girl couldn't do that much to repair his reputation?
"I think it can be, supposin' that you want it to be."
It was hard to say anything to that, and he didn't even try. Perhaps she knew, as she settled back in her chair, crossing her legs for comfort, and changed topics. "You didn't finish the story from last night."
He shrugged. He'd gotten as far as he could, but Nurse Evelyn eventually caught wind of it and brought Alexandria's mother. The girl had been surprisingly accepting; she had merely asked that he write letters and with a nod he had promised. A glimpse at her mother's face told him she'd never get them, but he could accept that.
Children grew up, mostly, and Alexandria would; already was. She'd understand one day.
The nurse brought him out of his thoughts as she continued, "Would you? For me?"
He couldn't help but laugh. "I don't really know where it's going. It's just something I make up for her."
The nurse nodded in understanding, but didn't move. She straightened the folds in her dress and offered a crooked little smile. "Could you make one up for me then?"
He stared. How could he? He wasn't a writer; he wouldn't even know where to start.
As she looked with him with expectation though, he opened his mouth and just as before, the words simply came:
"In the middle of an orchard where no apples had grown for a hundred years, a woman with tresses like fire cocked her gun and shouted, 'Walk'."
All rights to The Fallbelong to Tarsem Singh and his business associates. This story is written entirely for pleasure, not profit.
I'm between betas at the moment, so forgiveness is asked for any little flaws (like the Southern accent, which still bugs me but my muse refused to cut). Actually, any betas reading who do Supernaturalas well (for which I have a few fics written and am thinking of fully entering after years of lurking) and are free and willing, I'd greatly appreciate it if you contacted me. Assuming anyone is out there, of course - it's such a small little film, though absolutely fantastic.
Until we meet again.