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If I Stay, Page 20

Gayle Forman

Page 20


  Adam’s first reaction was to smile with pride. “I wish I could’ve seen that. ” But then his eyes clouded over and his lips fell into a frown. “Why’d you downplay it?” he asked. “Why didn’t you call me after the audition to brag?”

  “I don’t know,” I said.

  “Well, this is great news,” Adam said, trying to mask his hurt. “We should be celebrating. ”

  “Okay, let’s celebrate,” I said, with a forced gaiety. “We can go to Portland Saturday. Go to the Japanese Gardens and go out for dinner at Beau Thai. ”

  Adam grimaced. “I can’t. We’re playing in Olympia and Seattle this weekend. Minitour. Remember? I’d love for you to come, but I don’t know if that’s really a celebration for you. But I’ll be back Sunday late afternoon. I can meet you in Portland Sunday night if you want. ”

  “I can’t. I’m playing in a string quartet at some professor’s house. What about next weekend?”

  Adam looked pained. “We’re in the studio the next couple weekends, but we can go out during the week somewhere. Around here. To the Mexican place?”

  “Sure. The Mexican place,” I said.

  Two minutes before, I hadn’t even wanted to celebrate, but now I was feeling dejected and insulted at being relegated to a midweek dinner at the same place we always went to.

  When Adam graduated from high school last spring and moved out of his parents’ place and into the House of Rock, I hadn’t expected much to change. He’d still live nearby. We’d still see each other all the time. I’d miss our little powwows in the music wing, but I would also be relieved to have our relationship out from under the microscope of high school.

  But things had changed when Adam moved into the House of Rock and started college, though not for the reasons I’d thought they would. At the beginning of the fall, just as Adam was getting used to college life, things suddenly started heating up with Shooting Star. The band was offered a record deal with a medium-size label based in Seattle and now were busy in the studio recording. They were also playing more shows, to larger and larger crowds, almost every weekend. Things were so hectic that Adam had dropped half his course load and was going to college part-time, and if things kept up at this rate, he was thinking of dropping out altogether. “There are no second chances,” he told me.

  I was genuinely excited for him. I knew that Shooting Star was something special, more than just a college-town band. I hadn’t minded Adam’s increasing absences, especially since he made it so clear how much he minded them. But somehow, the prospect of Juilliard made things different—somehow it made me mind. Which didn’t make any sense at all because if anything, it should have leveled the field. Now I had something exciting happening, too.

  “We can go to Portland in a few weeks,” Adam promised. “When all the holiday lights are up. ”

  “Okay,” I said sullenly.

  Adam sighed. “Things are getting complicated, aren’t they?”

  “Yeah. Our schedules are too busy,” I said.

  “That’s not what I meant,” Adam said, turning my face toward his so I was looking at him in the eye.

  “I know that’s not what you meant,” I replied, but then a lump lodged itself in my throat and I couldn’t talk anymore.

  We tried to defuse the tension, to talk about it without really talking about it, to joke-ify it. “You know I read in US News and World Report that Willamette University has a good music program,” Adam told me. “It’s in Salem, which is apparently getting hipper by the moment. ”

  “According to who? The governor?” I replied.

  “Liz found some good stuff at a vintage-clothing store there. And you know, once the vintage places come in, the hipsters aren’t far behind. ”

  “You forget, I’m not a hipster,” I reminded him. “But speaking of, maybe Shooting Star should move to New York. I mean, it’s the heart of the punk scene. The Ramones. Blondie. ” My tone was frothy and flirtatious, an Oscar-worthy performance.

  “That was thirty years ago,” Adam said. “And even if I wanted to move to New York, there’s no way the rest of the band would. ” He stared mournfully at his shoes and I recognized the joking part of the conversation had ended. My stomach lurched, an appetizer before the full portion of heartache I had a feeling was going to be served at some point soon.

  Adam and I had never been the kind of couple to talk about the future, about where our relationship was going, but with things suddenly so unclear, we avoided talking about anything that was happening more than a few weeks away, and this made our conversations as stilted and awkward as they’d been in those early weeks together before we’d found our groove. One afternoon in the fall, I spotted a beautiful 1930s silk gown in the vintage store where Dad bought his suits and I almost pointed it out to Adam and asked if he thought I should wear that to the prom, but prom was in June and maybe Adam would be on tour in June or maybe I’d be too busy getting ready for Juilliard, so I didn’t say anything. Not long after that, Adam was complaining about his decrepit guitar, saying he wanted to get a vintage Gibson SG, and I offered to get it for him for his birthday. But then he said that those guitars cost thousands of dollars, and besides his birthday wasn’t until September, and the way he said September, it was like a judge issuing a prison sentence.

  A few weeks ago, we went to a New Year’s Eve party together. Adam got drunk, and when midnight came, he kissed me hard. “Promise me. Promise me you’ll spend New Year’s with me next year,” he whispered into my ear.

  I was about to explain that even if I did go to Juilliard, I’d be home for Christmas and New Year’s, but then I realized that wasn’t the point. So I promised him because I wanted it to be true as much as he did. And I kissed him back so hard, like I was trying to merge our bodies through our lips.

  On New Year’s Day, I came home to find the rest of my family gathered in the kitchen with Henry, Willow, and the baby. Dad was making breakfast: smoked-salmon hash, his specialty.

  Henry shook his head when he saw me. “Look at the kids today. Seems like just yesterday that stumbling home at eight o’clock felt early. Now I’d kill just to be able to sleep until eight. ”

  “We didn’t even make it till midnight,” Willow admitted, bouncing the baby on her lap. “Good thing, because this little lady decided to start her new year at five-thirty. ”

  “I stayed up till midnight!” Teddy yelled. “I saw the ball drop on TV at twelve. It’s in New York, you know? If you move there, will you take me to see it drop in real life?” he asked

  “Sure, Teddy,” I said feigning enthusiasm. The idea of me going to New York was seeming more and more real, and though this generally filled me with a nervous, if conflicted, excitement, the image of me and Teddy hanging out together on New Year’s Eve left me feeling unbearably lonely.

  Mom looked at me, eyebrows arched. “It’s New Year’s Day, so I won’t give you shit for coming in at this hour. But if you’re hungover, you’re grounded. ”

  “I’m not. I had one beer. I’m just tired. ”

  “Just tired, is it? You sure?” Mom grabbed ahold of my wrist and turned me toward her. When she saw my stricken expression, she tilted her head to the side as if to say, You okay? I shrugged and bit my lip to keep from losing it. Mom nodded. She handed me a cup of coffee and led me to the table. She put down a plate of hash and a thick slice of sourdough bread, and even though I couldn’t imagine being hungry, my mouth watered and my stomach rumbled and I was suddenly ravenous. I ate silently, Mom watching me all the while. After everyone was done, Mom sent the rest of them into the living room to watch the Rose Parade on TV.

  “Everyone out,” she ordered. “Mia and I will do the washing up. ”

  As soon as everyone was gone, Mom turned to me and I just fell against her, crying and releasing all of the tension and uncertainty of the last few weeks. She stood there silently, letting me blubber all over her sweater. When I stop
ped, she held out the sponge. “You wash. I’ll dry. We’ll talk. I always find it calming. The warm water, the soap. ”

  Mom picked up the dish towel and we went to work. And I told her about Adam and me. “It was like we had this perfect year and a half,” I said. “So perfect that I never even thought about the future. About it taking us in different directions. ”

  Mom’s smile was both sad and knowing. “I thought about it. ”

  I turned to her. She was staring straight out the window, watching a couple of sparrows bathe in a puddle. “I remember last year when Adam came over for Christmas Eve. I told your father that you’d fallen in love too soon. ”

  “I know, I know. What does a dumb kid know about love?”

  Mom stopped drying a skillet. “That’s not what I meant. The opposite, really. You and Adam never struck me as a ‘high-school’ relationship,” Mom said making quote marks with her hands. “It was nothing like the drunken roll in the back of some guy’s Chevy that passed for a relationship when I was in high school. You guys seemed, still seem, in love, truly, deeply. ” She sighed. “But seventeen is an inconvenient time to be in love. ”

  That made me smile and made the pit in my stomach soften a little. “Tell me about it,” I said. “Though if we weren’t both musicians, we could go to college together and be fine. ”

  “That’s a cop-out, Mia,” Mom countered. “All relationships are tough. Just like with music, sometimes you have harmony and other times you have cacophony. I don’t have to tell you that. ”

  “I guess you’re right. ”

  “And come on, music brought you two together. That’s what your father and I always thought. You were both in love with music and then you fell in love with each other. It was a little like that for your dad and me. I didn’t play but I listened. Luckily, I was a little older when we met. ”

  I’d never told Mom about what Adam had said that night after the Yo-Yo Ma concert, when I’d asked him Why me? How the music was totally a part of it. “Yeah, but now I feel like it’s music that’s going to pull us apart. ”

  Mom shook her head. “That’s bullshit. Music can’t do that. Life might take you down different roads. But each of you gets to decide which one to take. ” She turned to face me. “Adam’s not trying to stop you going to Juilliard, is he?”

  “No more than I’m trying to get him to move to New York. And it’s all ridiculous anyway. I might not even go. ”

  “No, you might not. But you’re going somewhere. I think we all get that. And the same is true for Adam. ”

  “At least he can go somewhere while still living here. ”

  Mom shrugged. “Maybe. For now anyhow. ”

  I put my face in my hands and shook my head. “What am I going to do?” I lamented. “I feel like I’m caught in a tug-of-war. ”

  Mom shot me a sympathetic grimace. “I don’t know. But I do know that if you want to stay and be with him, I’d support that, though maybe I’m only saying that because I don’t think you’d be able to turn down Juilliard. But I’d understand if you chose love, Adam love, over music love. Either way you win. And either way you lose. What can I tell you? Love’s a bitch. ”

  Adam and I talked about it once more after that. We were at House of Rock, sitting on his futon. He was riffing about on his acoustic guitar.

  “I might not get in,” I told him. “I might wind up at school here, with you. In a way, I hope I don’t get accepted so I don’t have to choose. ”

  “If you get in, the choice is already made, isn’t it?” Adam asked.