If I Stay, Page 11Gayle Forman
There are people who like classical music. People who like pop. There are city people. And country people. Coke drinkers. Pepsi drinkers. There are conformists and free-thinkers. Virgins and nonvirgins. And there are the kind of girls who have boyfriends in high school, and the kind of girls who don’t.
Kim and I had always assumed that we both belonged to the latter category. “Not that we’ll be forty-year-old virgins or anything,” she reassured. “We’ll just be the kinds of girls who have boyfriends in college. ”
That always made sense to me, seemed preferable even. Mom was the sort of girl who had had boyfriends in high school and often remarked that she wished she hadn’t wasted her time. “There’s only so many times a girl wants to get drunk on Mickey’s Big Mouth, go cow-tipping, and make out in back of a pickup truck. As far as the boys I dated were concerned, that amounted to a romantic evening. ”
Dad on the other hand, didn’t really date till college. He was shy in high school, but then he started playing drums and freshman year of college joined a punk band, and boom, girlfriends. Or at least a few of them until he met Mom, and boom, a wife. I kind of figured it would go that way for me.
So, it was a surprise to both Kim and me when I wound up in Group A, with the boyfriended girls. At first, I tried to hide it. After I came home from the Yo-Yo Ma concert, I told Kim the vaguest of details. I didn’t mention the kissing. I rationalized the omission: There was no point getting all worked up about a kiss. One kiss does not a relationship make. I’d kissed boys before, and usually by the next day the kiss had evaporated like a dewdrop in the sun.
Except I knew that with Adam it was a big deal. I knew from the way the warmth flooded my whole body that night after he dropped me off at home, kissing me once more at my doorstep. By the way I stayed up until dawn hugging my pillow. By the way that I could not eat the next day, could not wipe the smile off my face. I recognized that the kiss was a door I had walked through. And I knew that I’d left Kim on the other side.
After a week, and a few more stolen kisses, I knew I had to tell Kim. We went for coffee after school. It was May but it was pouring rain as though it were November. I felt slightly suffocated by what I had to do.
“I’ll buy. You want one of your froufrou drinks?” I asked. That was another one of the categories we’d determined: people who drank plain coffee and people who drank gussied-up caffeine drinks like the mint-chip lattes Kim was so fond of.
“I think I’ll try the cinnamon-spice chai latte,” she said, giving me a stern look that said, I will not be ashamed of my beverage selection.
I bought us our drinks and a piece of marionberry pie with two forks. I sat down across from Kim, running the fork along the scalloped edge of the flaky crust.
“I have something to tell you,” I said.
“Something about having a boyfriend?” Kim’s voice was amused, but even though I was looking down, I could tell that she’d rolled her eyes.
“How’d you know?” I asked, meeting her gaze.
She rolled her eyes again. “Please. Everyone knows. It’s the hottest gossip this side of Melanie Farrow dropping out to have a baby. It’s like a Democratic presidential candidate marrying a Republican presidential candidate. ”
“Who said anything about marrying?”
“I’m just being metaphoric,” Kim said. “Anyhow, I know. I knew even before you knew. ”
“Come on. A guy like Adam going to a Yo-Yo Ma concert? He was buttering you up. ”
“It’s not like that,” I said, though of course, it was totally like that.
“I just don’t see why you couldn’t tell me sooner,” she said in a quiet voice.
I was about to give her my whole one-kiss-not-equaling-a-relationship spiel and to explain that I didn’t want to blow it out of proportion, but I stopped myself. “I was afraid you’d be mad at me,” I admitted.
“I’m not,” Kim said. “But I will be if you ever lie to me again. ”
“Okay,” I said.
“Or if you turn into one of those girlfriends, always ponying around after her boyfriend, and speaking in the first-person plural. ‘We love the winter. We think Velvet Underground is seminal. ’”
“You know I wouldn’t rock-talk to you. First-person singular or plural. I promise. ”
“Good,” Kim replied. “Because if you turn into one of those girls, I’ll shoot you. ”
“If I turn into one of those girls, I’ll hand you the gun. ”
Kim laughed for real at that, and the tension was broken. She popped a hunk of pie into her mouth. “How did your parents take it?”
“Dad went through the five phases of grieving—denial, anger, acceptance, whatever—in like one day. I think he’s more freaked out that he is old enough to have a daughter who has a boyfriend. ” I paused, took a sip of my coffee, letting the word boyfriend rest out in the air. “And he claims he can’t believe that I’m dating a musician. ”
“You’re a musician,” Kim reminded me.
“You know, a punk, pop musician. ”
“Shooting Star is emo-core,” Kim corrected. Unlike me, she cared about the myriad pop musical distinctions: punk, indie, alternative, hard-core, emo-core.
“It’s mostly hot air, you know, part of his whole bow-tie-Dad thing. I think Dad likes Adam. He met him when he picked me up for the concert. Now he wants me to bring him over for dinner, but it’s only been a week. I’m not quite ready for a meet-the-folks moment yet. ”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for that. ” Kim shuddered at the thought of it. “What about your mom?”
“She offered to take me to Planned Parenthood to get the Pill and told me to make Adam get tested for various diseases. In the meantime, she ordered me to buy condoms now. She even gave me ten bucks to start my supply. ”
“Have you?” Kim gasped.
“No, it’s only been a week,” I said. “We’re still in the same group on that one. ”
“For now,” Kim said.
One other category that Kim and I devised was people who tried to be cool and people who did not. On this one, I thought that Adam, Kim, and I were in the same column, because even though Adam was cool, he didn’t try. It was effortless for him. So, I expected the three of us to become the best of friends. I expected Adam to love everyone I loved as much as I did.
And it did work out like that with my family. He practically became the third kid. But it never clicked with Kim. Adam treated her the way that I’d always imagined he would treat a girl like me. He was nice enough—polite, friendly, but distant. He didn’t attempt to enter her world or gain her confidence. I suspected he thought she wasn’t cool enough and it made me mad. After we’d been together about three months, we had a huge fight about it.
“I’m not dating Kim. I’m dating you,” he said, after I accused him of not being nice enough to her.
“So what? You have lots of female friends. Why not add her to the stable?”
Adam shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just not there. ”
“You’re such a snob!” I said, suddenly furious.
Adam eyed me with furrowed brows, like I was a math problem on the blackboard that he was trying to figure out. “How does that make me a snob? You can’t force friendship. We just don’t have a lot in common. ”
“That’s what makes you a snob! You only like people like you,” I cried. I stormed out, expecting him to follow after me, begging forgiveness, and when he didn’t, my fury doubled. I rode my bike over to Kim’s house to vent. She listened to my diatribe, her expression purposefully blasé.
“That’s just ridiculous that he only likes people like him,” she scolded when I’d finished spewing. “He likes you, and you’re not like him. ”
“That’s the problem,” I mumbled.
“Well, then deal with that. Don’t drag me into your drama,” she
said. “Besides, I don’t really click with him, either. ”
“No, Mia. Not everyone swoons for Adam. ”
“I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that I want you guys to be friends. ”
“Yeah, well, I want to live in New York City and have normal parents. As the man said, ‘You can’t always get what you want. ’”
“But you’re two of the most important people in my life. ”
Kim looked at my red and teary face and her expression softened into a gentle smile. “We know that, Mia. But we’re from different parts of your life, just like music and me are from different parts of your life. And that’s fine. You don’t have to choose one or the other, at least not as far as I’m concerned. ”
“But I want those parts of my life to come together. ”
Kim shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. Look, I accept Adam because you love him. And I assume he accepts me because you love me. If it makes you feel any better, your love binds us. And that’s enough. Me and him don’t have to love each other. ”
“But I want you to,” I wailed.
“Mia,” Kim said, an edge of warning in her voice signaling the end of her patience. “You’re starting to act like one of those girls. Do you need to get me a gun?”
Later that night, I stopped by Adam’s house to say I was sorry. He accepted my apology with a bemused kiss on the nose. And then nothing changed. He and Kim remained cordial but distant, no matter how much I tried to sell them on each other. The funny thing was, I never really bought into Kim’s notion that they were somehow bound together through me—until just now when I saw her half carrying him down the hospital corridor.
8:12 P. M.
I watch Kim and Adam disappear down the hall. I mean to follow them but I’m glued to the linoleum, unable to move my phantom legs. It’s only after they disappear around a corner that I rouse myself and trail after them, but they’ve already gone inside the elevator.
By now I’ve figured out that I don’t have any supernatural abilities. I can’t float through walls or dive down stairwells. I can only do the things I’d be able do in real life, except that apparently what I do in my world is invisible to everyone else. At least that seems to be the case because no one looks twice when I open doors or hit the elevator button. I can touch things, even manipulate door handles and the like, but I can’t really feel anything or anybody. It’s like I’m experiencing everything through a fish-bowl. It doesn’t really make sense to me, but then again, nothing that’s happening today makes much sense.
I assume that Kim and Adam are headed to the waiting room to join the vigil, but when I get there, my family is not there. There’s a stack of coats and sweaters on the chairs and I recognize my cousin Heather’s bright orange down jacket. She lives in the country and likes to hike in the woods, so she says that the neon colors are necessary to keep drunk hunters from mistaking her for a bear.
I look at the clock on the wall. It could be dinnertime. I wander back down the halls to the cafeteria, which has the same fried-food, boiled-vegetable stench as cafeterias everywhere. Unappetizing smell aside, it’s full of people. The tables are crammed with doctors and nurses and nervous-looking medical students in short white jackets and stethoscopes so shiny that they look like toys. They are all chowing down on cardboard pizza and freeze-dried mashed potatoes. It takes me a while to locate my family, huddled around a table. Gran is chatting to Heather. Gramps is paying careful attention to his turkey sandwich.
Aunt Kate and Aunt Diane are in the corner, whispering about something. “Some cuts and bruises. He was already released from the hospital,” Aunt Kate is saying, and for a second I think she’s talking about Teddy and am so excited I could cry. But then I hear her say something about there being no alcohol in his system, how our car just swerved into his lane and some guy named Mr. Dunlap says he didn’t have time to stop, and then I realize it’s not Teddy they’re talking about; it’s the other driver.