Home > If I Stay (If I Stay #1)(7)

If I Stay (If I Stay #1)(7)
Author: Gayle Forman

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 me 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.

There’s a small chapel in the basement. It’s hushed in there, a library kind of quiet. There are plush chairs like the kind you find at a movie theater, and a muted soundtrack playing some New Agey-type music.

Kim slumps back in one of the chairs. She takes off her coat, the one that is black and velvet and that I have coveted since she bought it at some mall in New Jersey on a trip to visit her grandparents.

“I love Oregon,” she says with a hiccup attempt at a laugh. I can tell by her sarcastic tone that it’s me she’s talking to, not God. “This is the hospital’s idea of nondenominational.” She points around the chapel. There is a crucifix mounted on the wall, a flag of a cross draped over the lectern, and a few paintings of the Madonna and Child hanging in the back. “We have a token Star of David,” she says, gesturing to the six-pointed star on the wall. “But what about the Muslims? No prayer rugs or symbol to show which way is east toward Mecca? And what about the Buddhists? Couldn’t they spring for a gong? I mean there are probably more Buddhists than Jews in Portland anyway.”

I sit down in a chair beside her. It feels so natural the way that Kim is talking to me like she always does. Other than the paramedic who told me to hang in there and the nurse who keeps asking me how I’m doing, no one has talked to me since the accident. They talk about me.

I’ve never actually seen Kim pray. I mean, she prayed at her bat mitzvah and she does the blessings at Shabbat dinner, but that is because she has to. Mostly, she makes light of her religion. But after she talks to me for a while, she closes her eyes and moves her lips and murmurs things in a language I don’t understand.

She opens her eyes and wipes her hands together as if to say enough of that. Then she reconsiders and adds a final appeal. “Please don’t die. I can understand why you’d want to, but think about this: If you die, there’s going to be one of those cheesy Princess Diana memorials at school, where everyone puts flowers and candles and notes next to your locker.” She wipes away a renegade tear with the back of her hand. “I know you’d hate that kind of thing.”

Maybe it was because we were too alike. As soon as Kim showed up on the scene, everyone assumed we’d be best friends just because we were both dark, quiet, studious, and, at least outwardly, serious. The thing was, neither one of us was a particularly great student (straight B averages all around) or, for that matter, all that serious. We were serious about certain things—music in my case, art and photography in hers—and in the simplified world of middle school, that was enough to set us apart as separated twins of some sort.

Immediately we got shoved together for everything. On Kim’s third day of school, she was the only person to volunteer to be a team captain during a soccer match in PE, which I’d thought was beyond suck-uppy of her. As she put on her red jersey, the coach scanned the class to pick Team B’s captain, his eyes settling on me, even though I was one of the least athletic girls. As I shuffled over to put on my jersey, I brushed past Kim, mumbling “thanks a lot.”

The following week, our English teacher paired us together for a joint oral discussion on To Kill a Mockingbird. We sat across from each other in stony silence for about ten minutes. Finally, I said. “I guess we should talk about racism in the Old South, or something.”

Kim ever so slightly rolled her eyes, which made me want to throw a dictionary at her. I was caught off guard by how intensely I already hated her. “I read this book at my old school,” she said. “The racism thing is kind of obvious. I think the bigger thing is people’s goodness. Are they naturally good and turned bad by stuff like racism or are they naturally bad and need to work hard not to be?”

“Whatever,” I said. “It’s a stupid book.” I didn’t know why I’d said that because I’d actually loved the book and had talked to Dad about it; he was using it for his student teaching. I hated Kim even more for making me betray a book I loved.

“Fine. We’ll do your idea, then,” Kim said, and when we got a B minus, she seemed to gloat about our mediocre grade.

After that, we just didn’t talk. That didn’t stop teachers from pairing us together or everyone in the school from assuming that we were friends. The more that happened, the more we resented it—and each other. The more the world shoved us together, the more we shoved back—and against each other. We tried to pretend the other didn’t exist even though the existence of our nemeses kept us both occupied for hours.

I felt compelled to give myself reasons why I hated Kim: She was a Goody Two-shoes. She was annoying. She was a show-off. Later, I found out that she did the same thing about me, though her major complaint was that she thought I was a bitch. And one day, she even wrote it to me. In English class, someone flung a folded-up square of notebook paper onto the floor next to my right foot. I picked it up and opened it. It read, Bitch!

Nobody had ever called me that before, and though I was automatically furious, deep down I was also flattered that I had elicited enough emotion to be worthy of the name. People called Mom that a lot, probably because she had a hard time holding her tongue and could be brutally blunt when she disagreed with you. She’d explode like a thunderstorm, and then be fine again. Anyhow, she didn’t care that people called her a bitch. “It’s just another word for feminist,” she told me with pride. Even Dad called her that sometimes, but always in a jokey, complimentary way. Never during a fight. He knew better.

I looked up from my grammar book. There was only one person who would’ve sent this note to me, but I still scarcely believed it. I peered at the class. Everyone had their faces in their books. Except for Kim. Her ears were so red that it made the little sideburnlike tendrils of dark hair look like they were also blushing. She was glaring at me. I might have been eleven years old and a little socially immature, but I recognized a gauntlet being thrown down when I saw it, and I had no choice but to take it up.

When we got older, we liked to joke that we were so glad we had that fistfight. Not only did it cement our friendship but it also provided us our first and likely only opportunity for a good brawl. When else were two girls like us going to come to blows? I wrestled on the ground with Teddy, and sometimes I pinched him, but a fistfight? He was just a baby, and even if he were older, Teddy was like half kid brother and half my own kid. I’d been babysitting him since he was a few weeks old. I could never hurt him like that. And Kim, an only child, didn’t have any siblings to sock. Maybe at camp she could’ve gotten into a scuffle, but the consequences would’ve been dire: hours-long conflict-resolution seminars with the counselors and the rabbi. “My people know how to fight with the best of them, but with words, with lots and lots of words,” she told me once.

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