If I Stay, Page 22Gayle Forman
“Is that so?” I laughed, spraying orange juice through my nose.
“That’s what Casey Carson told me,” Teddy said, his mouth set into a determined line.
My parents and I groaned. Casey Carson was Teddy’s best friend, and we all liked him a lot and thought his parents seemed like such nice people, so we didn’t get how they could give their child such a ridiculous name.
“Well, if Casey Carson says so,” I said, giggling, and soon Mom and Dad were laughing, too.
“What’s so funny?” Teddy demanded.
“Nothing, Little Man,” Dad said. “It’s just the heat. ”
“Can we still do sprinklers today?” Teddy asked. Dad had promised him he could run through the sprinklers that afternoon even though the governor had asked everyone in the state to conserve water this summer. That request had peeved Dad, who claimed that we Oregonians suffer eight months of rain a year and should be exempt from ever worrying about water conservation.
“Damn straight you can,” Dad said. “Flood the place if you want. ”
Teddy seemed placated. “If the baby can walk, then she can walk through the sprinklers. Can she come into the sprinklers with me?”
Mom looked at Dad. “That’s not a bad idea,” she said. “I think Willow’s off today. ”
“We could have a barbecue,” Dad said. “It is Labor Day and grilling in this heat would certainly qualify as labor. ”
“Plus, we’ve got a freezer full of steaks from when your father decided to order that side of beef,” Mom said. “Why not?”
“Can Adam come?” I asked.
“Of course,” Mom said. “We haven’t seen much of your young man lately. ”
“I know,” I said. “Things are starting to happen for the band,” I said. At the time I was excited about it. Genuinely and completely. Gran had only recently planted the seed of Juilliard in my head, but it hadn’t taken root. I hadn’t decided to apply yet. Things with Adam had not gotten weird yet.
“If the rock star can handle a humble picnic with squares like us,” Dad joked.
“If he can handle a square like me, he can handle squares like you,” I joked back. “I think I’ll invite Kim, too. ”
“The more the merrier,” Mom said. “We’ll make it a blowout like in the olden days. ”
“When dinosaurs roamed the earth?” Teddy asked.
“Exactly,” Dad said. “When dinosaurs roamed the earth and your mom and I were young. ”
About twenty people showed up. Henry, Willow, the baby, Adam, who brought Fitzy, Kim, who brought a cousin visiting from New Jersey, plus a whole bunch of friends of my parents whom they had not seen in ages. Dad hauled our ancient barbecue out of the basement and spent the afternoon scrubbing it. We grilled up steaks and, this being Oregon, tofu pups and veggie burgers. There was watermelon, which we kept cool in a bucket of ice, and a salad made with vegetables from the organic farm that some of Mom and Dad’s friends had started. Mom and I made three pies with wild blackberries that Teddy and I had picked. We drank Pepsi out of these old-fashioned bottles that Dad had found at some ancient country store, and I swear they tasted better than the regular kind. Maybe it was because it was so hot, or that the party was so last minute, or maybe because everything tastes better on the grill, but it was one of those meals that you know you’ll remember.
When Dad turned on the sprinkler for Teddy and the baby, everyone else decided to run through it. We left it on so long that the brown grass turned into a big slippery puddle and I wondered if the governor himself might come and tell us off. Adam tackled me and we laughed and squirmed around on the lawn. It was so hot, I didn’t bother changing into dry clothes, just kept dousing myself whenever I got too sweaty. By the end of the day, my sundress was stiff. Teddy had taken his shirt off and had streaked himself with mud. Dad said he looked like one of the boys from Lord of the Flies.
When it started to get dark, most people left to catch the fireworks display at the university or to see a band called Oswald Five-0 play in town. A handful of people, including Adam, Kim, Willow, and Henry, stayed. When it cooled off, Dad lit a campfire on the lawn, and we roasted marshmallows. Then the musical instruments appeared. Dad’s snare drum from the house, Henry’s guitar from his car, Adam’s spare guitar from my room. Everyone was jamming together, singing songs: Dad’s songs, Adam’s songs, old Clash songs, old Wipers songs. Teddy was dancing around, the blond of his hair reflecting the golden flames. I remember watching it all and getting that tickling in my chest and thinking to myself: This is what happiness feels like.
At one point, Dad and Adam stopped playing and I caught them whispering about something. Then they went inside, to get more beer, they claimed. But when they returned they were carrying my cello.
“Oh, no, I’m not giving a concert,” I said.
“We don’t want you to,” Dad said. “We want you to play with us. ”
“No way,” I said. Adam had occasionally tried to get me to “jam” with him and I always refused. Lately he’d started joking about us playing air-guitar-air-cello duets, which was about as far as I was willing to go.
“Why not, Mia?” Kim said. “Are you such a classical-music snob?”
“It’s not that,” I said, suddenly feeling panicked. “It’s just that the two styles don’t fit together. ”
“Says who?” Mom asked, her eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, who knew you were such a musical segregationist?” Henry joked.
Willow rolled her eyes at Henry and turned to me. “Pretty please,” she said as she rocked the baby to sleep in her lap. “I never get to hear you play anymore. ”
“C’mon, Mee,” Henry said. “You’re among family. ”
“Totally,” Kim said.
Adam took my hand and caressed the inside of my wrist with his fingers. “Do it for me. I really want to play with you. Just once. ”
I was about to shake my head, to reaffirm that my cello had no place among the jamming guitars, no place in the punk-rock world. But then I looked out at Mom, who was smirking at me, as if issuing a challenge, and Dad, who was tapping on his pipe, pretending to be nonchalant so as not to apply any pressure, and Teddy, who was jumping up and down—though I think it was because he was hopped up on marshmallows, not because he had any desire to hear me play—and Kim and Willow and Henry all peering at me like this really mattered, and Adam, looking as awed and proud as he always did when he listened to me play. And I was a little scared of falling on my face, of not blending, of making bad music. But everyone was looking at me so intently, wanting me to join in so much, and I realized that sounding bad wasn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen.
So I played. And even though you wouldn’t think it, the cello didn’t sound half bad with all those guitars. In fact, it sounded pretty amazing.
7:16 A. M.
It’s morning. And inside the hospital, there’s a different kind of dawn, a rustling of covers, a clearing of the eyes. In some ways, the hospital never goes to sleep. The lights stay on and the nurses stay awake, but even though it’s still dark outside, you can tell that things are waking up. The doctors are back, yanking on my eyelids, shining their lights at me, frowning as they scribble notes in my chart as though I’ve let them down.
I don’t care anymore. I’m tired of this all, and it will be over soon. The social worker is back on duty again, too. It looks like the night’s sleep had little impact on her. Her eyes are still heavy, her hair a kinky mess. She reads my chart and listens to updates from the nurses on my bumpy night, which seems to make her even more tired. The nurse with the blue-black skin is also back. She greeted me by telling me how glad she was to see me this morning, how she’d been thinking about me last night, hoping I’d be here. Then she noticed the bloodstain on my blanket and tsked tsked before hustling off to get me a new one.
After Kim left, there haven’t been any more vi
sitors. I guess Willow has run out of people to lobby me with. I wonder if this deciding business is something that all the nurses are aware of. Nurse Ramirez sure knew about it. And I think the nurse with me now knows it, too, judging by how congratulatory she’s acting that I made it through the night. And Willow seems like she knows it, too, with the way she’s been marching everyone through here. I like these nurses so much. I hope they will not take my decision personally.
I am so tired now that I can barely blink my eyes. It’s all just a matter of time, and part of me wonders why I’m delaying the inevitable. But I know why. I’m waiting for Adam to come back. Though it seems like he has been gone for an eternity, it’s probably only been an hour. And he asked me to wait, so I will. That’s the least I can do for him.
My eyes are closed so I hear him before I see him. I hear the raspy, quick rushes of his lungs. He is panting like he just ran a marathon. Then I smell the sweat on him, a clean musky scent that I’d bottle and wear as perfume if I could. I open my eyes. Adam has closed his. But the lids are puffy and pink, so I know what he’s been doing. Is that why he went away? To cry without my seeing?
He doesn’t so much sit in the chair as fall into it, like clothes heaped onto the floor at the end of a long day. He covers his face with his hands and takes deep breaths to steady himself. After a minute, he drops his hands into his lap. “Just listen,” he says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.
I open my eyes wide now. I sit up as much as I can. And I listen.
“Stay. ” With that one word, Adam’s voice catches, but he swallows the emotion and pushes forward. “There’s no word for what happened to you. There’s no good side of it. But there is something to live for. And I’m not talking about me. It’s just . . . I don’t know. Maybe I’m talking shit. I know I’m in shock. I know I haven’t digested what happened to your parents, to Teddy . . . ” When he says Teddy, his voice cracks and an avalanche of tears tumbles down his face. And I think: I love you.
I hear him take gulpfuls of air to steady himself. And then he continues: “All I can think about is how f**ked up it would be for your life to end here, now. I mean, I know that your life is f**ked up no matter what now, forever. And I’m not dumb enough to think that I can undo that, that anyone can. But I can’t wrap my mind around the notion of you not getting old, having kids, going to Juilliard, getting to play that cello in front of a huge audience, so that they can get the chills the way I do every time I see you pick up your bow, every time I see you smile at me.
“If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would just be too painful, that maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay. ”
Then it is Adam who lets go. His sobs burst like fists pounding against tender flesh.
I close my eyes. I cover my ears. I cannot watch this. I cannot hear this.
But then, it is no longer Adam that I hear. It’s that sound, the low moan that in an instant takes flight and turns into something sweet. It’s the cello. Adam has placed headphones over my lifeless ears and is laying an iPod down on my chest. He’s apologizing, saying that he knows this isn’t my favorite but it was the best he could do. He turns up the volume so I can hear the music floating across the morning air. Then he takes my hand.
It is Yo-Yo Ma. Playing Andante con poco e moto rubato. The low piano plays almost as if in warning. In comes the cello, like a heart bleeding. And it’s like something inside of me implodes.