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If I Stay, Page 23

Gayle Forman

Page 23


  I am sitting around the breakfast table with my family, drinking hot coffee, laughing at Teddy’s chocolate-chip mustache. The snow is blowing outside.

  I am visiting a cemetery. Three graves under a tree on a hill overlooking the river.

  I am lying with Adam, my head on his chest, on a sandy bank next to the river.

  I am hearing people say the word orphan and realize that they’re talking about me.

  I am walking through New York City with Kim, the skyscrapers casting shadows on our faces.

  I am holding Teddy on my lap, tickling him as he giggles so hard he keels over.

  I am sitting with my cello, the one Mom and Dad gave me after my first recital. My fingers caress the wood and the pegs, which time and touch have worn smooth. My bow is poised over the strings now. I am looking at my hand, waiting to start playing.

  I am looking at my hand, being held by Adam’s hand.

  Yo-Yo Ma continues to play, and it’s like the piano and cello are being poured into my body, the same way that the IV and blood transfusions are. And the memories of my life as it was, and the flashes of it as it might be, are coming so fast and furious. I feel like I can no longer keep up with them but they keep coming and everything is colliding, until I cannot take it anymore. Until I cannot be like this one second longer.

  There is a blinding flash, a pain that rips through me for one searing instant, a silent scream from my broken body. For the first time, I can sense how fully agonizing staying will be.

  But then I feel Adam’s hand. Not sense it, but feel it. I’m not sitting huddled in the chair anymore. I’m lying on my back in the hospital bed, one again with my body.

  Adam is crying and somewhere inside of me I am crying, too, because I’m feeling things at last. I’m feeling not just the physical pain, but all that I have lost, and it is profound and catastrophic and will leave a crater in me that nothing will ever fill. But I’m also feeling all that I have in my life, which includes what I have lost, as well as the great unknown of what life might still bring me. And it’s all too much. The feelings pile up, threatening to crack my chest wide open. The only way to survive them is to concentrate on Adam’s hand. Grasping mine.

  And suddenly I just need to hold his hand more than I’ve ever needed anything in this world. Not just be held by it, but hold it back. I aim every remaining ounce of energy into my right hand. I’m weak, and this is so hard. It’s the hardest thing I will ever have to do. I summon all the love I have ever felt, I summon all the strength that Gran and Gramps and Kim and the nurses and Willow have given me. I summon all the breath that Mom, Dad, and Teddy would fill me with if they could. I summon all my own strength, focus it like a laser beam into the fingers and palm of my right hand. I picture my hand stroking Teddy’s hair, grasping a bow poised above my cello, interlaced with Adam’s.

  And then I squeeze.

  I slump back, spent, unsure of whether I just did what I did. Of what it means. If it registered. If it matters.

  But then I feel Adam’s grip tighten, so that the grasp of his hand feels like it is holding my entire body. Like it could lift me up right out of this bed. And then I hear the sharp intake of his breath followed by the sound of his voice. It’s the first time today I can truly hear him.

  “Mia?” he asks.