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If I Stay, Page 19

Gayle Forman

Page 19



  “Hmm. ”

  “Can I ask you a question?”

  “Always. ”

  “Are you sad that you aren’t in a band anymore?”

  “Nope,” he said.

  “Not even a little bit?”

  Dad’s gray eyes met mine. “What brought this all on?”

  “I was talking to Gramps. ”

  “Oh, I see. ”

  “You do?”

  Dad nodded. “Gramps thinks that he somehow exerted pressure on me to change my life. ”

  “Well, did he?”

  “I suppose in an indirect way he did. By being who he is, by showing me what a father is. ”

  “But you were a good dad when you played in a band. The best dad. I wouldn’t want you to give that up for me,” I said, feeling suddenly choked up. “And I don’t think Teddy would, either. ”

  Dad smiled and patted my hand. “Mia Oh-My-Uh. I’m not giving anything up. It’s not an either-or proposition. Teaching or music. Jeans or suits. Music will always be a part of my life. ”

  “But you quit the band! Gave up dressing punk!”

  Dad sighed. “It wasn’t hard to do. I’d played that part of my life out. It was time. I didn’t even think twice about it, in spite of what Gramps or Henry might think. Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you. Does that make any sense?”

  I thought about the cello. How sometimes I didn’t understand why I’d been drawn to it, how some days it seemed as if the instrument had chosen me. I nodded, smiled, and returned my attention to the game. “King me,” I said.

  4:57 A. M.

  I can’t stop thinking about “Waiting for Vengeance. ” It’s been years since I’ve listened to or thought of that song, but after Gramps left my bedside, I’ve been singing it to myself over and over. Dad wrote the song ages ago, but now it feels like he wrote it yesterday. Like he wrote it from wherever he is. Like there’s a secret message in it for me. How else to explain those lyrics? I’m not choosing. But I’m running out of fight.

  What does it mean? Is it supposed to be some kind of instruction? Some clue about what my parents would choose for me if they could? I try to think about it from their perspectives. I know they’d want to be with me, for us all to be together again eventually. But I have no idea if that even happens after you die, and if it does, it’ll happen whether I go this morning or in seventy years. What would they want for me now? As soon as I pose the question, I can see Mom’s pissed-off expression. She’d be livid with me for even contemplating anything but staying. But Dad, he understood what it meant to run out of fight. Maybe, like Gramps, he’d understand why I don’t think I can stay.

  I’m singing the song, as if buried within its lyrics are instructions, a musical road map to where I’m supposed to go and how to get there.

  I’m singing and concentrating and singing and thinking so hard that I barely register Willow’s return to the ICU, barely notice that she’s talking to the grumpy nurse, barely recognize the steely determination in her tone.

  Had I been paying attention, I might have realized that Willow was lobbying for Adam to be able to visit me. Had I been paying attention, I might have somehow got away before Willow was—as always—successful.

  I don’t want to see him now. I mean, of course I do. I ache to. But I know that if I see him, I’m going to lose the last wisp of peacefulness that Gramps gave me when he told me that it was okay to go. I’m trying to summon the courage to do what I have to do. And Adam will complicate things. I try to stand up to get away, but something has happened to me since I went back into surgery. I no longer have the strength to move. It takes all my effort to sit upright in my chair. I can’t run away; all I can do is hide. I curl my knees into my chest and close my eyes.

  I hear Nurse Ramirez talking to Willow. “I’ll take him over,” she says. And for once, the grumpy nurse doesn’t order her back to her own patients.

  “That was a pretty boneheaded move you pulled earlier,” I hear her tell Adam.

  “I know,” Adam answers. His voice is a throaty whisper, the way it gets after a particularly scream-y concert. “I was desperate. ”

  “No, you were romantic,” she tells him.

  “I was idiotic. They said she was doing better before. That she’d come off the ventilator. That she was getting stronger. But after I came in here that she got worse. They said her heart stopped on the operating table . . . ” Adam trails off.

  “And they got it started. She had a perforated bowel that was slowly leaking bile into her abdomen and it threw her organs out of whack. This kind of thing happens all the time, and it had nothing to do with you. We caught it and fixed it and that’s what matters. ”

  “But she was doing better,” Adam whispers. He sounds so young and vulnerable, like Teddy used to sound when he got the stomach flu. “And then I came in and she almost died. ” His voice chokes into a sob. The sound of it wakes me up like a bucket of ice water dropped down my shirt. Adam thinks that he did this to me? No! That’s beyond absurd. He’s so wrong.

  “And I almost stayed in Puerto Rico to marry a fat SOB,” the nurse snaps. “But I di’int. And I have a different life now. Almost don’t matter. You got to deal with the situation at hand. And she’s still here. ” She whips the privacy curtain around my bed. “In you go,” she tells Adam.

  I force my head up and my eyes open. Adam. God, even in this state, he is beautiful. His eyes are dipping with fatigue. He’s sprouting stubble, enough of it that if we were to make out, it would make my chin raw. He is wearing his typical band uniform of a T-shirt, skinny pegged pants, and Converse, with Gramps’s plaid scarf draped over his shoulders.

  When he first sees me, he blanches, like I’m some hideous Creature from the Black Lagoon. I do look pretty bad, hooked back up to the ventilator and a dozen other tubes, the dressing from my latest surgery seeping blood. But after a moment, Adam exhales loudly and then he’s just Adam again. He searches around, like he’s dropped something and then finds what he’s looking for: my hand.

  “Jesus, Mia, your hands are freezing. ” He squats down, takes my right hand into his, and careful to not bump into my tubes and wires, draws his mouth to them, blowing warm air into the shelter he’s created. “You and your crazy hands. ” Adam is always amazed at how even in middle of summer, even after the sweatiest of encounters, my hands stay cold. I tell him it’s bad circulation but he doesn’t buy it because my feet are usually warm. He says I have bionic hands, that this is why I’m such a good cello player.

  I watch him warm my hands as he has done a thousand times before. I think of the first time he did it, at school, sitting on the lawn, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I also remember the first time he did it in front of my parents. We were all sitting on the porch on Christmas Eve, drinking cider. It was freezing outside. Adam grabbed my hands and blew on them. Teddy giggled. Mom and Dad didn’t say anything, just exchanged a quick look, something private that passed between them and then Mom smiled ruefully at us.

  I wonder if I tried, if I could feel him touching me. If I were to lie down on top of myself in the bed, would I become one with my body again? Would I feel him then? If I reached out my ghostly hand to his, would he feel me? Would he warm the hands he cannot see?

  Adam drops my hand and steps forward to look at me. He is standing so close that I can almost smell him and I’m overpowered by the need to touch him. It’s basic, primal, and all-consuming the way a baby needs its mother’s breast. Even though I know, if we touch, a new tug-of-war—one that will be even more painful than the quiet one Adam and I have been waging these past few months—will begin.

  Adam is mumbling something now. In a low voice. Over and over he is saying: please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Finally, he stops and looks at my face. “Please, Mia,” he implores. “Don’t
make me write a song. ”

  I’d never expected to fall in love. I was never the kind of girl who had crushes on rock stars or fantasies about marrying Brad Pitt. I sort of vaguely knew that one day I’d probably have boyfriends (in college, if Kim’s prediction was anything to go by) and get married. I wasn’t totally immune to the charms of the opposite sex, but I wasn’t one of those romantic, swoony girls who had pink fluffy daydreams about falling in love.

  Even as I was falling in love—full throttle, intense, can’t-erase-that-goofy-smile love—I didn’t really register what was happening. When I was with Adam, at least after those first few awkward weeks, I felt so good that I didn’t bother thinking about what was going on with me, with us. It just felt normal and right, like slipping into a hot bubble bath. Which isn’t to say we didn’t fight. We argued over lots of stuff: him not being nice enough to Kim, me being antisocial at shows, how fast he drove, how I stole the covers. I got upset because he never wrote any songs about me. He claimed he wasn’t good with sappy love songs: “If you want a song, you’ll have to cheat on me or something,” he said, knowing full well that wasn’t going to happen.

  This past fall, though, Adam and I started to have a different kind of fight. It wasn’t even a fight, really. We didn’t shout. We barely even argued, but a snake of tension quietly slithered into our lives. And it seemed like it all started with my Juilliard audition.

  “So did you knock them dead?” Adam asked me when I got back. “They gonna let you in with a full scholarship?”

  I had a feeling that they were going to let me in, at least—even before I told Professor Christie about the one judge’s “long time since we’ve had an Oregon country girl” comment, even before she hyperventilated because she was so convinced this was a tacit promise of admission. Something had happened to my playing in that audition; I had broken through some invisible barrier and could finally play the pieces like I heard them being played in my head, and the result had been something transcendent: the mental and physical, the technical and emotional sides of my abilities all finally blending. Then, on the drive home, as Gramps and I were approaching the California-Oregon border, I just had this sudden flash—a vision of me lugging a cello through New York City. And it was like I knew, and that certainty planted itself in my belly like a warm secret. I’m not the kind of person who’s prone to premonitions or overconfidence, so I suspected that there was more to my flash than magical thinking.

  “I did okay,” I told Adam, and as I said it, I realized that I’d just straight-out lied to him for the first time, and that this was different from all the lying by omission I’d been doing before.

  I had neglected to tell Adam that I was applying to Juilliard in the first place, which was actually harder than it sounded. Before I sent in my application, I had to practice every spare moment with Professor Christie to fine-tune the Shostakovich concerto and the two Bach suites. When Adam asked me why I was so busy, I gave purposely vague excuses about learning tough new pieces. I justified this to myself because it was technically true. And then Professor Christie arranged for me to have a recording session at the university so I could submit a high-quality CD to Juilliard. I had to be at the studio at seven in the morning on a Sunday and the night before I’d pretended to be feeling out of sorts and told Adam he probably shouldn’t stay over. I’d justified that fib, too. I was feeling out of sorts because I was so nervous. So, it wasn’t a real lie. And besides, I thought, there was no point in making a big fuss about it. I hadn’t told Kim, either, so it wasn’t like Adam was getting special deception treatment.

  But after I told him I’d only done okay at the audition, I had the feeling that I was wading into quicksand, and that if I took one more step, there’d be no extricating myself and I’d sink until I suffocated. So I took a deep breath and heaved myself back onto solid ground. “Actually, that’s not true,” I told Adam. “I did really well. I played better than I ever have in my life. It was like I was possessed. ”