If I Stay, Page 6Gayle Forman
I dreaded going to shows with Adam. It wasn’t that I was jealous. Or that I wasn’t into his kind of music. I loved to watch him play. When he was onstage, it was like the guitar was a fifth limb, a natural extension of his body. And when he came offstage afterward, he would be sweaty but it was such a clean sweat that part of me was tempted to lick the side of his face, like it was a lollipop. I didn’t, though.
Once the fans would descend, I’d skitter off to the sidelines. Adam would try to draw me back, to wrap an arm around my waist, but I’d disentangle myself and head back to the shadows.
“Don’t you like me anymore?” Adam chided me after one show. He was kidding, but I could hear the hurt behind the offhand question.
“I don’t know if I should keep coming to your shows,” I said.
“Why not?” he asked. This time he didn’t try to disguise the hurt.
“I feel like I keep you from basking in it all. I don’t want you to have to worry about me. ”
Adam said that he didn’t mind worrying about me, but I could tell that part of him did.
We probably would’ve broken up in those early weeks were it not for my house. At my house, with my family, we found a common ground. After we’d been together for a month, I took Adam home with me for his first family dinner with us. He sat in the kitchen with Dad, rock-talking. I observed, and I still didn’t understand half of it, but unlike at the shows I didn’t feel left out.
“Do you play basketball?” Dad asked. When it came to observing sports, Dad was a baseball fanatic, but when it came to playing, he loved to shoot hoops.
“Sure,” Adam said. “I mean, I’m not very good. ”
“You don’t need to be good; you just need to be committed. Want to play a quick game? You already have your basketball shoes on,” Dad said, looking at Adam’s Converse high-tops. Then he turned to me. “You mind?”
“Not at all,” I said, smiling. “I can practice while you play. ”
They went out to the courts behind the nearby elementary school. They returned forty-five minutes later. Adam was covered with a sheen of sweat and looking a little dazed.
“What happened?” I asked. “Did the old man whoop you?”
Adam shook his head and nodded at the same time. “Well, yes. But it’s not that. I got stung by a bee on my palm while we were playing. Your dad grabbed my hand and sucked the venom out. ”
I nodded. This was a trick he’d learned from Gran, and unlike with rattlesnakes, it actually worked on bee stings. You got the stinger and the venom out, so you were left with only a little itch.
Adam broke into an embarrassed smile. He leaned in and whispered into my ear: “I think I’m a little wigged out that I’ve been more intimate with your dad than I have with you. ”
I laughed at that. But it was sort of true. In the few weeks we’d been together, we hadn’t done much more than kiss. It wasn’t that I was a prude. I was a virgin, but I certainly wasn’t devoted to staying that way. And Adam certainly wasn’t a virgin. It was more that our kissing had suffered from the same painful politeness as our conversations.
“Maybe we should remedy that,” I murmured.
Adam raised his eyebrows as if asking me a question. I blushed in response. All through dinner, we grinned at each other as we listened to Teddy, who was chattering about the dinosaur bones he’d apparently dug up in the back garden that afternoon. Dad had made his famous salt roast, which was my favorite dish, but I had no appetite. I pushed the food around my plate, hoping no one would notice. All the while, this little buzz was building inside me. I thought of the tuning fork I used to adjust my cello. Hitting it sets off vibrations in the note of A—vibrations that keep growing, and growing, until the harmonic pitch fills up the room. That’s what Adam’s grin was doing to me during dinner.
After the meal, Adam took a quick peek at Teddy’s fossil finds, and then we went upstairs to my room and closed the door. Kim is not allowed to be alone in her house with boys—not that the opportunity ever came up. My parents had never mentioned any rules on this issue, but I had a feeling that they knew what was happening with Adam and me, and even though Dad liked to play it all Father Knows Best, in reality, he and Mom were suckers when it came to love.
Adam lay down on my bed, stretching his arms above his head. His whole face was grinning—eyes, nose, mouth. “Play me,” he said.
“I want you to play me like a cello. ”
I started to protest that this made no sense, but then I realized it made perfect sense. I went to my closet and grabbed one of my spare bows. “Take off your shirt,” I said, my voice quavering.
Adam did. As thin as he was, he was surprisingly built. I could’ve spent twenty minutes staring at the contours and valleys of his chest. But he wanted me closer. I wanted me closer.
I sat down next to him on the bed so his long body was stretched out in front of me. The bow trembled as I placed it on the bed. I reached with my left hand and caressed Adam’s head as if it were the scroll of my cello. He smiled again and closed his eyes. I relaxed a little. I fiddled with his ears as though they were the string pegs and then I playfully tickled him as he laughed softly. I placed two fingers on his Adam’s apple. Then, taking a deep breath for courage, I plunged into his chest. I ran my hands up and down the length of his torso, focusing on the sinews in his muscles, assigning each one a string—A, G, C, D. I traced them down, one at a time, with the tip of my fingers. Adam got quiet then, as if he were concentrating on something.
I reached for the bow and brushed it across his hips, where I imagined the bridge of the cello would be. I played lightly at first and then with more force and speed as the song now playing in my head increased in intensity. Adam lay perfectly still, little groans escaping from his lips. I looked at the bow, looked at my hands, looked at Adam’s face, and felt this surge of love, lust, and an unfamiliar feeling of power. I had never known that I could make someone feel this way.
When I finished, he stood up and kissed me long and deep. “My turn,” he said. He pulled me to my feet and started by slipping the sweater over my head and edging down my jeans. Then he sat down on the bed and laid me across his lap. At first Adam did nothing except hold me. I closed my eyes and tried to feel his eyes on my body, seeing me as no one else ever had.
Then he began to play.
He strummed chords across the top of my chest, which tickled and made me laugh. He gently brushed his hands, moving farther down. I stopped giggling. The tuning fork intensified—its vibrations growing every time Adam touched me somewhere new.
After a while he switched to more of a Spanish-style, fingerpicking type of playing. He used the top of my body as the fret board, caressing my hair, my face, my neck. He plucked at my chest and my belly, but I could feel him in places his hands were nowhere near. As he played on, the energy magnified; the tuning fork going crazy now, firing off vibrations all over, until my entire body was humming, until I was left breathless. And when I felt like I could not take it one more minute, the swirl of sensations hit a dizzying crescendo, sending every nerve ending in my body on high alert.
I opened my eyes, savoring the warm calm that was sweeping over me. I started to laugh. Adam did, too. We kissed for a while longer until it was time for him to go home.
As I walked him out to his car, I wanted to tell him that I loved him. But it seemed like such a cliché after what we’d just done. So I waited and told him the next day. “That’s a relief. I thought you might just be using me for sex,” he joked, smiling.
After that, we still had our problems, but being overly polite with each other wasn’t one of them.
4:39 P. M.
I have quite the crowd now. Gran and Gramps. Uncle Greg. Aunt Diane. Aunt Kate. My cousins Heather and John and David. Dad is one of five kids, so there are still lots more relatives out there. Nobody is talking about Teddy, which leads m
e to believe that he’s not here. He’s probably still at the other hospital, being taken care of by Willow.
The relatives gather in the hospital waiting room. Not the little one on the surgical floor where Gran and Gramps were during my operation, but a larger one on the hospital’s main floor that is tastefully decorated in shades of mauve and has comfy chairs and sofas and magazines that are almost current. Everyone still talks in hushed tones, as if being respectful of the other people waiting, even though it’s only my family in the waiting room. It’s all so serious, so ominous. I go back into the hallway to get a break.
I’m so happy when Kim arrives; happy to see the familiar sight of her long black hair in a single braid. She wears the braid every day and always, by lunchtime, the curls and ringlets of her thick mane have managed to escape in rebellious little tendrils. But she refuses to surrender to that hair of hers, and every morning, it goes back into the braid.
Kim’s mother is with her. She doesn’t let Kim drive long distances, and I guess that after what’s happened, there’s no way she’d make an exception today. Mrs. Schein is red-faced and blotchy, like she’s been crying or is about to cry. I know this because I have seen her cry many times. She’s very emotional. “Drama queen,” is how Kim puts it. “It’s the Jewish-mother gene. She can’t help it. I suppose I’ll be like that one day, too,” Kim concedes.
Kim is so the opposite of that, so droll and funny in a low-key way that she’s always having to say “just kidding” to people who don’t get her sarcastic sense of humor, that I cannot imagine her ever being like her mother. Then again, I don’t have much basis for comparison. There are not a lot of Jewish mothers in our town or that many Jewish kids at our school. And the kids who are Jewish are usually only half, so all it means is that they have a menorah alongside their Christmas trees.
But Kim is really Jewish. Sometimes I have Friday-night dinner with her family when they light candles, eat braided bread, and drink wine (the only time I can imagine neurotic Mrs. Schein allowing Kim to drink). Kim’s expected to only date Jewish guys, which means she doesn’t date. She jokes that this is the reason her family moved here, when in fact it was because her father was hired to run a computer-chip plant. When she was thirteen, she had a bat mitzvah at a temple in Portland, and during the candlelighting ceremony at the reception, I got called up to light one. Every summer, she goes to Jewish sleepaway camp in New Jersey. It’s called Camp Torah Habonim, but Kim calls it Torah Whore, because all the kids do all summer is hook up.
“Just like band camp,” she joked, though my summer conservatory program is nothing like American Pie.
Right now I can see Kim is annoyed. She’s walking fast, keeping a good ten feet between her and her mother as they march down the halls. Suddenly her shoulders go up like a cat that’s just spied a dog. She swerves to face her mother.
“Stop it!” Kim demands. “If I’m not crying, there’s no f**king way you’re allowed to. ”
Kim never curses. So this shocks me.
“But,” Mrs. Schein protests, “how can you be so . . . ” —sob—“so calm when—”
“Cut it out!” Kim interjects. “Mia is still here. So I’m not losing it. And if I don’t lose it, you don’t get to!”
Kim stalks off in the direction of the waiting room, her mother following limply behind. When they reach the waiting room and see my assembled family, Mrs. Schein starts sniffling.
Kim doesn’t curse this time. But her ears go pink, which is how I know she’s still furious. “Mother. I am going to leave you here. I’m taking a walk. I’ll be back later. ”
I follow her back out into the corridor. She wanders around the main lobby, loops around the gift shop, visits the cafeteria. She looks at the hospital directory. I think I know where she’s headed before she does.