Home > If I Stay (If I Stay #1)(9)

If I Stay (If I Stay #1)(9)
Author: Gayle Forman

Another nurse comes by. She has dark hair and dark eyes brightened with lots of shimmery eye makeup. Her nails are acrylic and have heart decals on them. She must have to work hard to keep her nails so pretty. I admire that.

She’s not my nurse but she comes up to Gran and Gramps just the same. “Don’t you doubt for a second that she can hear you,” she tells them. “She’s aware of everything that’s going on.” She stands there with her hands on her hips. I can almost picture her snapping gum. Gran and Gramps stare at her, lapping up what she’s telling them. “You might think that the doctors or nurses or all this is running the show,” she says, gesturing to the wall of medical equipment. “Nuh-uh. She’s running the show. Maybe she’s just biding her time. So you talk to her. You tell her to take all the time she needs, but to come on back. You’re waiting for her.”

Mom and Dad would never call Teddy or me mistakes. Or accidents. Or surprises. Or any of those other stupid euphemisms. But neither one of us was planned, and they never tried to hide that.

Mom got pregnant with me when she was young. Not teenager-young, but young for their set of friends. She was twenty-three and she and Dad had already been married for a year.

In a funny way, Dad was always a bow-tie wearer, always a little more traditional than you might imagine. Because even though he had blue hair and tattoos and wore leather jackets and worked in a record store, he wanted to marry Mom back at a time when the rest of their friends were still having drunken one-night stands. “Girlfriend is such a stupid word,” he said. “I couldn’t stand calling her that. So, we had to get married, so I could call her ‘wife.’”

Mom, for her part, had a messed-up family. She didn’t go into the gory details with me, but I knew her father was long gone and for a while she had been out of touch with her mother, though now we saw Grandma and Papa Richard, which is what we called Mom’s stepfather, a couple times a year.

So Mom was taken not just with Dad but with the big, mostly intact, relatively normal family he belonged to. She agreed to marry Dad even though they’d been together just a year. Of course, they still did it their way. They were married by a lesbian justice of the peace while their friends played a guitar-feedback-heavy version of the “Wedding March.” The bride wore a white-fringed flapper dress and black spiked boots. The groom wore leather.

They got pregnant with me because of someone else’s wedding. One of Dad’s music buddies who’d moved to Seattle had gotten his girlfriend pregnant, so they were doing the shotgun thing. Mom and Dad went to the wedding, and at the reception, they got a little drunk and back at the hotel weren’t as careful as usual. Three months later there was a thin blue line on the pregnancy test.

The way they tell it, neither felt particularly ready to be parents. Neither one felt like an adult yet. But there was no question that they would have me. Mom was adamantly pro-choice. She had a bumper sticker on the car that read If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child? But in her case the choice was to keep me.

Dad was more hesitant. More freaked out. Until the minute the doctor pulled me out and then he started to cry.

“That’s poppycock,” he would say when Mom recounted the story. “I did no such thing.”

“You didn’t cry then?” Mom asked in sarcastic amusement.

“I teared. I did not cry.” Then Dad winked at me and pantomimed weeping like a baby.

Because I was the only kid in Mom and Dad’s group of friends, I was a novelty. I was raised by the music community, with dozens of aunties and uncles who took me in as their own little foundling, even after I started showing a strange preference for classical music. I didn’t want for real family, either. Gran and Gramps lived nearby, and they were happy to take me for weekends so Mom and Dad could act wild and stay out all night for one of Dad’s shows.

Around the time I was four, I think my parents realized that they were actually doing it—raising a kid—even though they didn’t have a ton of money or “real” jobs. We had a nice house with cheap rent. I had clothes (even if they were hand-me-downs from my cousins) and I was growing up happy and healthy. “You were like an experiment,” Dad said. “Surprisingly successful. We thought it must be a fluke. We needed another kid as a kind of control group.”

They tried for four years. Mom got pregnant twice and had two miscarriages. They were sad about it, but they didn’t have the money to do all the fertility stuff that people do. By the time I was nine, they’d decided that maybe it was for the best. I was becoming independent. They stopped trying.

As if to convince themselves how great it was not to be tied down by a baby, Mom and Dad bought us tickets to go visit New York for a week. It was supposed to be a musical pilgrimage. We would go to CBGB’s and Carnegie Hall. But when to her surprise, Mom discovered she was pregnant, and then to her greater surprise, stayed pregnant past the first trimester, we had to cancel the trip. She was tired and sick to her stomach and so grumpy Dad joked that she’d probably scare the New Yorkers. Besides, babies were expensive and we needed to save.

I didn’t mind. I was excited about a baby. And I knew that Carnegie Hall wasn’t going anywhere. I’d get there someday.

5:40 P.M.

I am a little freaked out right now. Gran and Gramps left a while ago, but I stayed behind here in the ICU. I am sitting in one the chairs, going over their conversation, which was very nice and normal and nondisturbing. Until they left. As Gran and Gramps walked out of the ICU, with me following, Gramps turned to Gran and asked: “Do you think she decides?”

“Decides what?”

Gramps looked uncomfortable. He shuffled his feet. “You know? Decides,” he whispered.

“What are you talking about?” Gran sounded exasperated and tender at the same time.

“I don’t know what I’m talking about. You’re the one who believes in all the angels.”

“What does that have to do with Mia?” Gran asked.

“If they’re gone now, but still here, like you believe, what if they want her to join them? What if she wants to join them?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” Gran snapped.

“Oh,” was all Gramps said. The inquiry was over.

After they left, I was thinking that one day maybe I’ll tell Gran that I never much bought into her theory that birds and such could be people’s guardian angels. And now I’m more sure than ever that there’s no such thing.

My parents aren’t here. They are not holding my hand, or cheering me on. I know them well enough to know that if they could, they would. Maybe not both of them. Maybe Mom would stay with Teddy while Dad watched over me. But neither of them is here.

And it’s while contemplating this that I think about what the nurse said. She’s running the show. And suddenly I understand what Gramps was really asking Gran. He had listened to that nurse, too. He got it before I did.

If I stay. If I live. It’s up to me.

All this business about medically induced comas is just doctor talk. It’s not up to the doctors. It’s not up to the absentee angels. It’s not even up to God who, if He exists, is nowhere around right now. It’s up to me.

How am I supposed to decide this? How can I possibly stay without Mom and Dad? How can I leave without Teddy? Or Adam? This is too much. I don’t even understand how it all works, why I’m here in the state that I’m in or how to get out of it if I wanted to. If I were to say, I want to wake up, would I wake up right now? I already tried snapping my heels to find Teddy and trying to beam myself to Hawaii, and that didn’t work. This seems a whole lot more complicated.

But in spite of that, I believe it’s true. I hear the nurse’s words again. I am running the show. Everyone is waiting on me.

I decide. I know this now.

And this terrifies me more than anything else that has happened today.

Where the hell is Adam?

A week before Halloween of my junior year, Adam showed up at my door triumphant. He was holding a dress bag and wearing a shit-eating grin.

“Prepare to writhe in jealousy. I just got the best costume,” he said. He unzipped the bag. Inside was a frilly white shirt, a pair of breeches, and a long wool coat with epaulets.

“You’re going to be Seinfeld with the puffy shirt?” I asked.

“Pff. Seinfeld. And you call yourself a classical musician. I’m going to be Mozart. Wait, you haven’t seen the shoes.” He reached into the bag and pulled out clunky black leather numbers with metal bars across the tops.

“Nice,” I said. “I think my mom has a pair like them.”

“You’re just jealous because you don’t have such a rockin’ costume. And I’ll be wearing tights, too. I’m just that secure in my manhood. Also, I have a wig.”

“Where’d you get all this?” I asked, fingering the wig. It felt like it was made of burlap.

“Online. Only a hundred bucks.”

“You spent a hundred dollars on a Halloween costume?”

At the mention of the world Halloween, Teddy zoomed down the stairs, ignoring me and yanking on Adam’s wallet chain. “Wait here!” he demanded, and then ran back upstairs and returned a few seconds later holding a bag. “Is this a good costume? Or will it make me look babyish?” Teddy asked, pulling out a pitchfork, a set of devil ears, a red tail, and a pair of red feetie pajamas.

“Ohh.” Adam stepped backward, his eyes wide. “That outfit scares the hell out of me and you aren’t even wearing it.”

“Really? You don’t think the pajamas make it look dumb. I don’t want anyone to laugh at me,” Teddy declared, his eyebrows furrowed in seriousness.

I grinned at Adam, who was trying to swallow his own smile. “Red pajamas plus pitchfork plus devil ears and pointy tail is so fully satanic no one would dare challenge you, lest they risk eternal damnation,” Adam assured him.

Teddy’s face broke into a wide grin, showing off the gap of his missing front tooth. “That’s kind of what Mom said, but I just wanted to make sure she wasn’t just telling me that so I wouldn’t bug her about the costume. You’re taking me trick-or-treating, right?” He looked at me now.

“Just like every year,” I answered. “How else am I gonna get candy?”

“You’re coming, too?” he asked Adam.

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

Teddy turned on his heel and whizzed back up the stairs. Adam turned to me. “That’s Teddy settled. What are you wearing?”

“Ahh, I’m not much of a costume girl.”

Adam rolled his eyes. “Well, become one. It’s Halloween, our first one together. Shooting Star has a big show that night. It’s a costume concert, and you promised to go.”

Inwardly, I groaned. After six months with Adam, I had just gotten used to us being the odd couple at school—people called us Groovy and the Geek. And I was starting to become more comfortable with Adam’s bandmates, and had even learned a few words of rock talk. I could hold my own now when Adam took me to the House of Rock, the rambling house near the college where the rest of the band all lived. I could even participate in the band’s punk-rock pot-luck parties when everyone invited had to bring something from their fridge that was on the verge of spoiling. We took all the ingredients and made something out of it. I was actually pretty good at finding ways to turn the vegetarian ground beef, beets, feta cheese, and apricots into something edible.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)