Home > If I Stay (If I Stay #1)(6)

If I Stay (If I Stay #1)(6)
Author: Gayle Forman

There are so many tubes attached to me that I cannot count them all: one down my throat breathing for me; one down my nose, keeping my stomach empty; one in my vein, hydrating me; one in my bladder, peeing for me; several on my chest, recording my heartbeat; another on my finger, recording my pulse. The ventilator that’s doing my breathing has a soothing rhythm like a metronome, in, out, in, out.

No one, aside from the doctors and nurses and a social worker, has been in to see me. It’s the social worker who speaks to Gran and Gramps in hushed sympathetic tones. She tells them that I am in “grave” condition. I’m not entirely sure what that means—grave. On TV, patients are always critical, or stable. Grave sounds bad. Grave is where you go when things don’t work out here.

“I wish there was something we could do,” Gran says. “I feel so useless just waiting.”

“I’ll see if I can get you in to see her in a little while,” the social worker says. She has frizzy gray hair and a coffee stain on her blouse; her face is kind. “She’s still sedated from the surgery and she’s on a ventilator to help her breathe while her body heals from the trauma. But it can be helpful even for patients in a comatose state to hear from their loved ones.”

Gramps grunts in reply.

“Do you have any people you can call?” the social worker asks. “Relatives who might like to be here with you. I understand this must be quite a trial for you, but the stronger you can be, the more it will help Mia.”

I startle when I hear the social worker say my name. It’s a jarring reminder that it’s me they’re talking about. Gran tells her about the various people who are en route right now, aunts, uncles. I don’t hear any mention of Adam.

Adam is the one I really want to see. I wish I knew where he was so I could try to go there. I have no idea how he’s going to find out about me. Gran and Gramps don’t have his phone number. They don’t carry cell phones, so he can’t call them. And I don’t know how he’d even know to call them. The people who would normally pass along pertinent information that something has happened to me are in no position to do that.

I stand over the bleeping tubed lifeless form that is me. My skin is gray. My eyes are taped shut. I wish someone would take the tape off. It looks like it itches. The nice nurse bustles over. Her scrubs have lollipops on them, even though this isn’t a pediatric unit. “How’s it going, sweetheart?” she asks me, as if we just bumped into each other in the grocery store.

It didn’t start out so smoothly with Adam and me. I think I had this notion that love conquers all. And by the time he dropped me off from the Yo-Yo Ma concert, I think we were both aware that we were falling in love. I thought that getting to this part was the challenge. In books and movies, the stories always end when the two people finally have their romantic kiss. The happily-ever-after part is just assumed.

It didn’t quite work that way for us. It turned out that coming from such far corners of the social universe had its downsides. We continued to see each other in the music wing, but these interactions remained platonic, as if neither one of us wanted to mess with a good thing. But whenever we met at other places in the school—when we sat together in the cafeteria or studied side by side on the quad on a sunny day—something was off. We were uncomfortable. Conversation was stilted. One of us would say something and the other would start to say something else at the same time.

“You go,” I’d say.

“No, you go,” Adam would say.

The politeness was painful. I wanted to push through it, to return to the glow of the night of the concert, but I was unsure of how to get back there.

Adam invited me to see his band play. This was even worse than school. If I felt like a fish out of water in my family, I felt like a fish on Mars in Adam’s circle. He was always surrounded by funky, lively people, by cute girls with dyed hair and piercings, by aloof guys who perked up when Adam rock-talked with them. I couldn’t do the groupie thing. And I didn’t know how to rock-talk at all. It was a language I should’ve understood, being both a musician and Dad’s daughter, but I didn’t. It was like how Mandarin speakers can sort of understand Cantonese but not really, even though non-Chinese people assume all Chinese can communicate with one another, even though Mandarin and Cantonese are actually different.

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.

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