If I Stay (If I Stay #1)(14)


by Gayle Forman

“I’ll have you out of here in fifteen,” Adam promises, stepping into her galaxy.

She strides toward him. “Adam, baby,” she croons. “How you holding up?” Brooke encircles him in a hug as if they are old friends, though I know that they only met for the first time today; just yesterday Adam was saying how nervous he was about it. But now she’s here acting like his best friend. That’s the power of the scene, I guess. As she embraces Adam, I see every guy and girl in that lobby watch hungrily, wishing, I imagine, that their own significant other were upstairs in grave condition so that they might be the ones getting the consolatory cuddle from Brooke.

I can’t help but wonder if I were here, if I were watching this as regular old Mia, would I feel jealous, too? Then again, if I were regular old Mia, Brooke Vega would not be in this hospital lobby as part of some great ruse to get Adam in to see me.

“Okay, kids. Time to rock-and-roll. Adam, what’s the plan?” Brooke asks.

“You are the plan. I hadn’t really thought beyond you going up to the ICU and making a ruckus.”

Brooke licks her bee-stung lips. “Making a ruckus is one of my favorite things to do. What do you think we should do? Let out a primal scream? Strip? Smash a guitar? Wait, I didn’t bring my guitar. Damn.”

“You could sing something?” someone suggests.

“How about that old Smiths song ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’?” someone calls.

Adam blanches at this sudden reality check and Brooke raises her eyebrows in a stern rebuke. Everyone goes serious.

Kim clears her throat. “Um, it doesn’t do us any good if Brooke is a diversion in the lobby. We need to go upstairs to the ICU and then maybe someone could shout that Brooke Vega is here. That might do it. If it doesn’t, then sing. All we really want is to lure a couple of curious nurses out, and that grouchy head nurse after them. Once she comes out of the ICU and sees all of us in the hall, she’ll be too busy dealing with us to notice that Adam has slipped inside.”

Brooke appraises Kim. Kim in her rumpled black pants and unflattering sweater. Then Brooke smiles and links arms with my best friend. “Sounds like a plan. Let’s motor, kids.”

I lag behind, watching this procession of hipsters barrel through the lobby. The sheer noisiness of them, of their heavy boots, and loud voices, buzzed on by their sense of urgency, ricochets through the quiet hush of the hospital and breathes some life into the place. I remember watching a TV program once about old-age homes that brought in cats and dogs to cheer the elderly and dying patients. Maybe all hospitals should import groups of rabble-rousing punk rockers to kick-start the languishing patients’ hearts.

They stop in front of the elevator, waiting endlessly for one empty enough to ferry them up as a group. I decide that I want to be next to my body when Adam makes it to the ICU. I wonder if I will be able to feel his touch on me. While they wait at the elevator banks, I scramble up the stairs.

I’ve been gone from the ICU for more than two hours, and a lot has changed. There is a new patient in one of the empty beds, a middle-aged man whose face looks like one of those surrealist paintings: half of it looks normal, handsome even, the other half is a mess of blood, gauze, and stitching, like someone just blew it off. Maybe a gunshot wound. We get a lot of hunting accidents around here. One of the other patients, one who was so swaddled in gauze and bandages that I couldn’t see if he/she was a man or woman, is gone. In his/her place is a woman whose neck is immobilized in one of those collar things.

As for me, I’m off my ventilator now. I remember the social worker telling my grandparents and Aunt Diane that this was a positive step. I stop to check if I feel any different, but I don’t feel anything, not physically anyhow. I haven’t since I was in the car this morning, listening to Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3. Now that I’m breathing on my own, my wall of machines bleeps far less, so I get fewer visits from the nurses. Nurse Ramirez, the one with the nails, looks over at me every now and again, but she’s busy with the new guy with the half face.

“Holy crud. Is that Brooke Vega?” I hear someone ask in a totally fakey dramatic voice from outside the ICU’s automatic doors. I’ve never heard any of Adam’s friends talk so PG-13 before. It’s their sanitized hospital version of “holy f**king shit.”

“You mean Brooke Vega of Bikini? Brooke Vega who was on the cover of Spin magazine last month? Here in this very hospital?” This time it’s Kim talking. She sounds like a six-year-old reciting lines from a school play about the food groups: You mean you’re supposed to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day?

“Yeah, that’s right,” says Brooke’s raspy voice. “I’m here to offer some rock-and-roll succor to all the people of Portland.”

A couple of the younger nurses, the ones who probably listen to pop radio or watch MTV and have heard of Bikini, look up, their faces excited question marks. I hear them whispering, eager to see if it’s really Brooke, or maybe just happy for the break in the routine.

“Yeah. That’s right. So I thought I might sing a little song. One of my favorites. It’s called ‘Eraser,’” Brooke says. “One of you guys want to count me in?”

“I need something to tap with,” Liz answers. “Anyone got some pens or something?”

Now the nurses and orderlies in the ICU are very curious and heading toward the doors. I’m watching it all play out, like a movie on the screen. I stand next to my bed, my eyes trained on the double doors, waiting for them to open. I’m itching with suspense. I think of Adam, of how calming it feels when he touches me, how when he absentmindedly strokes the nape of my neck or blows warm air on my cold hands, I could melt into a puddle.

“What’s going on?” the older nurse demands. Suddenly every nurse on the floor is looking at her, not out toward Brooke anymore. No one is going to try to explain to her that a famous pop star is outside. The moment has broken. I feel the tension ease into disappointment. The door isn’t going to open.

Outside, I hear Brooke start belting out the lyrics to “Eraser.” Even a cappella, even through the automatic double doors, she sounds good.

“Somebody call security now,” the nurse growls.

“Adam, you better just go for it,” Liz yells. “Now or never. Full-court press.”

“Go!” screams Kim, suddenly an army general. “We’ll cover you.”

The door opens. In tumble more than a half-dozen punkers, Adam, Liz, Fitzy, some people I don’t know, and then Kim. Outside, Brooke is still singing, as though this were the concert she’d come to Portland to give.

As Adam and Kim charge through the door, they both look determined, happy even. I’m amazed by their resilience, by their hidden pockets of strength. I want to jump up and down and root for them like I used to do at Teddy’s T-ball games when he’d be rounding third and heading for home. It’s hard to believe, but watching Kim and Adam in action, I almost feel happy, too.

“Where is she?” Adam yells. “Where’s Mia?”

“In the corner, next to the supply closet!” someone shouts. It takes me a minute to realize it’s Nurse Ramirez.

“Security! Get him! Get him!” the grumpy nurse shouts. She has spotted Adam through all the other invaders and her face has gone pink with anger. Two hospital security guards and two orderlies run inside. “Dude, was that Brooke Vega?” one asks as he snags Fitzy and flings him toward the exit.

“Think so,” the other answers, grabbing Sarah and steering her out.

Kim has spotted me. “Adam, she’s here!” she screams, and then turns to look at me, the scream dying in her throat. “She’s here,” she says again, only this time it’s a whimper.

Adam hears her and he is dodging nurses and making his way to me. And then he’s there at the foot of my bed, his hand reaching out to touch me. His hand about to be on me. Suddenly I think of our first kiss after the Yo-Yo Ma concert, how I didn’t know how badly I’d wanted his lips on mine until the kiss was imminent. I didn’t realize just how much I was craving his touch, until now that I can almost feel it on me.

Almost. But suddenly he’s moving away from me. Two guards have him by the shoulders and have yanked him back. One of the same guards grabs Kim’s elbow and leads her out. She’s limp now, offering no resistance.

Brooke’s still singing in the hallway. When she sees Adam, she stops. “Sorry, honey,” she says. “I gotta jet before I miss my show. Or get arrested.” And then she’s off down the hall, trailed by a couple of orderlies begging for her autograph.

“Call the police,” the old nurse yells. “Have him arrested.”

“We’re taking him down to security. That’s protocol,” one guard says.

“Not up to us to arrest,” the other adds.

“Just get him off my ward.” She harrumphs and turns around. “Miss Ramirez, that had better not have been you abetting these hoodlums.”

“Of course not. I was in the supply closet. I missed all the hubbub,” she replies. She’s such a good liar that her face gives nothing away.

The old nurse claps her hands. “Okay. Show’s over. Back to work.”

I chase after Adam and Kim, who are being led into the elevators. I jump in with them. Kim looks dazed, like someone flipped her reset button and she’s still booting up. Adam’s lips are set in a grim line. I can’t tell if he’s about to cry or about to punch the guard. For his sake, I hope it’s the former. For my own, I hope the latter.

Downstairs, the guards hustle Adam and Kim toward a hallway filled with darkened offices. They’re about to go inside one of the few offices with lights on when I hear someone scream Adam’s name.

“Adam. Stop. Is that you?”

“Willow?” Adam yells.

“Willow?” Kim mumbles.

“Excuse me, where are you taking them?” Willow yells at the guards as she runs toward them.

“I’m sorry but these two were caught trying to break into the ICU,” one guard explains.

“Only because they wouldn’t let us in,” Kim explains weakly.

Willow catches up to them. She’s still wearing her nursing clothes, which is strange, because she normally changes out of what she calls “orthopedic couture” as soon as she can. Her long, curly auburn hair looks lank and greasy, like she’s forgotten to wash it these past few weeks. And her cheeks, normally rosy like apples, have been repainted beige. “Excuse me. I’m an RN over at Cedar Creek. I did my training here, so if you like we can go straighten this out with Richard Caruthers.”

“Who’s he?” one guard asks.

“Director of community affairs,” the other replies. Then he turns to Willow. “He’s not here. It’s not business hours.”

“Well, I have his home number,” Willow says, brandishing her cell phone like a weapon. “I doubt he’d be pleased if I were to call him now and tell him how his hospital was treating someone trying to visit his critically wounded girlfriend. You know that the director values compassion as much as efficiency, and this is not the way to treat a concerned loved one.”

“We’re just doing our job, ma’am. Following orders.”

“How about I save you two the trouble and take it from here. The patient’s family is all assembled upstairs. They’re waiting for these two to join them. Here, if you have any problems, you tell Mr. Caruthers to get in touch with me.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out a card and hands it over. One of the guards looks at it, hands it to the other, who stares at it and shrugs.

“Might as well save ourselves the paperwork,” he says. He lets go of Adam, whose body slumps like a scarecrow taken off his pole. “Sorry, kid,” he says to Adam, brushing off his shoulders.