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If I Stay, Page 12

Gayle Forman

Page 12


  “The police said it was probably the snow, or a deer that caused them to swerve,” Aunt Kate continues. “And apparently, this lopsided outcome is fairly common. One party is just fine and the other suffers catastrophic injuries . . . ” She trails off.

  I don’t know that I’d call Mr. Dunlap “just fine,” no matter how superficial his injuries. I think about what it must be like to be him, to wake up one Tuesday morning and get into your truck to head off to work at the mill or maybe to the feed-supply store or maybe to Loretta’s Diner to have eggs over easy. Mr. Dunlap, who was maybe perfectly happy or perfectly miserable, married with kids or a bachelor. But whatever and whoever he was early this morning, he isn’t that person any longer. His life has changed irrevocably, too. If what my aunt says is true, and the crash wasn’t his fault, then he was what Kim would call “a poor schmuck,” in the wrong place at the wrong time. And because of his bad luck and because he was in his truck, driving eastbound on Route 27 this morning, two kids are now parentless and at least one of them is in grave condition.

  How do you live with that? For a second, I have a fantasy of getting better and getting out of here and going to Mr. Dunlap’s house, to relieve him of his burden, to reassure him that it’s not his fault. Maybe we’d become friends.

  Of course, it probably wouldn’t work like that. It would be awkward and sad. Besides, I still have no idea what I will decide, still have no clue how I would determine to stay or not stay in the first place. Until I figure that out, I have to leave things up to the fates, or to the doctors, or whoever decides these matters when the decider is too confused to choose between the elevator and the stairs.

  I need Adam. I take a final look for him and Kim but they’re not here, so I head back upstairs to the ICU.

  I find them hiding out on the trauma floor, several halls away from the ICU. They’re trying to look casual as they test out the doors to various supply closets. When they finally find an unlocked one, they sneak inside. They fumble around in the dark for a light switch. I hate to break it to them, but it’s actually back out in the hall.

  “I’m not sure this kind of thing works outside of the movies,” Kim tells Adam as she feels along the wall.

  “Every fiction has its base in fact,” he tells her.

  “You don’t really look like the doctor type,” she says.

  “I was hoping for orderly. Or maybe janitor. ”

  “Why would a janitor be in the ICU?” Kim asks. She’s a stickler for these kinds of details.

  “Broken lightbulb. I don’t know. It’s all in how you pull it off. ”

  “I still don’t understand why you don’t just go to her family?” asks Kim, pragmatic as ever. “I’m sure her grandparents could explain, could get you in to see Mia. ”

  Adam shakes his head. “You know, when the nurse threatened to call security, my first thought was ‘I’ll just call Mia’s parents to fix this. ’” Adam stops, takes a few breaths. “It just keeps walloping me over and over, and it’s like it’s the first time every time,” he says in a husky voice.

  “I know,” Kim replies in a whisper.

  “Anyhow,” Adam says, resuming his search for the light switch, “I can’t go to her grandparents. I can’t add anything more to their burden. This is something I have to do for myself. ”

  I’m sure my grandparents would actually be happy to help Adam. They’ve met him a bunch of times, and they like him a lot. On Christmas, Gran is always sure to make maple fudge for him because he once mentioned how much he liked it.

  But I also know that sometimes Adam needs to do things the dramatic way. He is fond of the Grand Gesture. Like saving up two weeks of pizza-delivery tips to take me to Yo-Yo Ma instead of just asking me out on a regular date. Like decorating my windowsill with flowers every day for a week when I was contagious with the chicken pox.

  Now I can see that Adam is concentrating on the new task at hand. I’m not sure what exactly he has in mind, but whatever the plan, I’m grateful for it, if only because it’s pulled him out of his emotional stupor I saw in the hallway outside the ICU. I’ve seen him get like this before, when he’s writing a new song or is trying to convince me to do something I won’t want to do—like go camping with him—and nothing, not a meteorite crashing into the planet, not even a girlfriend in the ICU, can dissuade him.

  Besides, it’s the girlfriend in the ICU that’s necessitating Adam’s ruse to begin with. And from what I can guess, it’s the oldest hospital trick in the book, taken straight from that movie The Fugitive, which Mom and I recently watched on TNT. I have my doubts about it. So does Kim.

  “Don’t you think that nurse might recognize you?” Kim asks. “You did yell at her. ”

  “She won’t have to recognize me if she doesn’t see me. Now I get why you and Mia are such peas in a pod. A pair of Cassandras. ”

  Adam has never met Mrs. Schein, so he doesn’t get that implying that Kim is a worrywart is fighting words. Kim scowls, but then I can see her give in. “Maybe this retarded plan of yours would work better if we could actually see what we’re doing. ” She fumbles around in her bag and pulls out the cell phone her mother made her start carrying when she was ten—child LoJack, Kim called it—and turned on the monitor. A square of light softens the darkness.

  “Now, that’s more like the brilliant girl Mia brags about,” Adam says. He turns on his own cell phone and now the room is illuminated by a dull glow.

  Unfortunately, the glow shows that the tiny broom closet is full of brooms, a bucket, and a pair of mops, but is lacking any of the disguises that Adam was hoping for. If I could, I would inform them that the hospital has locker rooms, where the doctors and nurses can stow their street clothes and where they change into their scrubs or their lab coats. The only generic hospital garb sitting around are those embarrassing gowns that they put the patients in. Adam probably could throw on a gown and cruise the hallways in a wheelchair with no one the wiser, but such a getup would still not get him into the ICU.

  “Shit,” Adam says.

  “We can keep trying,” Kim says, suddenly the cheer-leader. “There are like ten floors in this place. I’m sure there are other unlocked closets. ”

  Adam sinks to the floor. “Nah. You’re right. This is stupid. We need to come up with a better plan. ”

  “You could fake a drug overdose or something so you wind up in the ICU,” Kim says.

  “This is Portland. You’re lucky if a drug overdose gets you into the ER,” Adam replies. “No, I was thinking more like a distraction. You know, like making the fire alarm go off so the nurses all come running out. ”

  “Do you really think sprinklers and panicked nurses are good for Mia?” Kim asks.

  “Well, not that exactly, but something so that they all look away for half a second and I stealthily sneak in. ”

  “They’ll find you out right away. They’ll throw you out on your backside. ”

  “I don’t care,” Adam responds. “I only need a second. ”

  “Why? I mean what can you do in a second?”

  Adam pauses for a second. His eyes, which are normally a kind of mutt’s mixture of gray and brown and green, have gone dark. “So I can show her that I’m here. That someone’s still here. ”

  Kim doesn’t ask any more questions after that. They sit there in silence, each lost in their own thoughts, and it reminds me of how Adam and I can be together but quiet and separate and I realize that they’re friends now, friends for real. No matter what happens, at least I have achieved that.

  After about five minutes, Adam knocks on his forehead.

  “Of course,” he says.


  “Time to activate the Bat Signal. ”


  “Come on. I’ll show you. ”

  When I first started playing the cello, Dad was still playing drums in his band, though that all started to taper
off a couple years later when Teddy arrived. But right from the get-go, I could see that there was something different about playing my kind of music, something more than my parents’ obvious bewilderment with my classical tastes. My music was solitary. I mean Dad might hammer on his drums for a few hours by himself or write songs alone at the kitchen table, plinking out the notes on his beat-up acoustic guitar, but he always said that songs really got written as you played them. That was what made it so interesting.

  When I played, it was most often by myself, in my room. Even when I practiced with the rotating college students, other than during lessons, I still usually played solo. And when I gave a concert or recital, it was alone, on a stage, my cello, myself, and an audience. And unlike Dad’s shows, where enthusiastic fans jumped the stage and then dive-bombed into the crowd, there was always a wall between the audience and me. After a while playing like this got lonely. It also got kind of boring.

  So in the spring of eighth grade I decided to quit. I planned to trail off quietly, by cutting back my obsessive practices, not giving recitals. I figured that if I laid off gradually, by the time I entered high school in the fall, I could start fresh, no longer be known as “the cellist. ” Maybe then I’d pick up a new instrument, guitar or bass, or even drums. Plus, with Mom too busy with Teddy to notice the length of my cello practice, and Dad swamped with lesson plans and grading papers at his new teaching job, I figured nobody would even realize that I’d stopped playing until it was already a done deal. At least that’s what I told myself. The truth was, I could no sooner quit cello cold turkey than I could stop breathing.

  I might have quit for real, were it not for Kim. One afternoon, I invited her to go downtown with me after school.

  “It’s a weekday. Don’t you have practice?” she asked as she twisted the combination on her locker.

  “I can skip it today,” I said, pretending to search for my earth-science book.

  “Have the pod people stolen Mia? First no recitals. And now you’re skipping out on practice. What’s going on?”

  “I don’t know,” I said, tapping my fingers against the locker. “I’m thinking of trying a new instrument. Like drums. Dad’s kit is down in the basement gathering dust. ”

  “Yeah, right. You on drums. That’s rich,” Kim said with a chuckle.

  “I’m serious. ”

  Kim had looked at me, her mouth agape, like I’d just told her I planned on sautéing up a platter of slugs for dinner. “You can’t quit cello,” she said after a moment of stunned silence.

  “Why not?”

  She looked pained as the tried to explain. “I don’t know but it just seems like your cello is part of who you are. I can’t imagine you without that thing between your legs. ”

  “It’s stupid. I can’t even play in the school marching band. I mean, who plays the cello anyhow? A bunch of old people. It’s a dumb instrument for a girl to play. It’s so dorky. And I want to have more free time, to do fun stuff. ”

  “What kind of ‘fun stuff’?” Kim challenged.

  “Um, you know? Shopping. Hanging out with you . . . ”

  “Please,” Kim said. “You hate to shop. And you hang out with me plenty. But fine, skip practice today. I want to show you something. ” She took me home with her and dragged out a CD of Nirvana MTV Unplugged and played me “Something in the Way. ”

  “Listen to that,” she said. “Two guitar players, a drummer, and a cello player. Her name is Lori Goldston and I bet when she was younger, she practiced two hours a day like some other girl I know because if you want to play with the philharmonic, or with Nirvana, that’s what you have to do. And I don’t think anyone would dare call her a dork. ”