Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 17

Why We Remember

I walked through the sliding-glass doorway to Adam’s hospital room. I couldn’t see him right away because the privacy curtain was pulled around his bed, but I could detect movement behind the curtain. And then I heard his voice. He was talking to a female nurse.

“Bald is sexy, right?” he said. I laughed to myself quietly as I waited for the nurse to open the curtain.

“Yes, Adam, bald is sexy,” she said, sounding amused.

“I mean, think about it. Bruce Willis, Vin Diesel . . . Natalie Portman . . . Adam Bramwell.”

She laughed and then very abruptly pulled the curtain open, the metal hooks screeching along the curtain track, startling me. Suddenly, Adam and I were face-to-face. He was completely bald and had two distinct scars just above his forehead on the left side.

He opened his eyes wide and grinned, but only one side of his mouth went up. I found it completely heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once.

“Hi, Adam,” I said just above a whisper.

“Come here, Charlotte.” I had been hanging back a few feet, cautious and apprehensive. The nurse, a young, blond woman, appraised me.

“Hello,” I said to her as I walked toward Adam.

“Hello,” she returned. “I’ll leave you two alone. Adam, your lunch will be here in a minute. Do you want me to help you, or . . .” She looked at me. I was looking at Adam.

“I can handle it, Leah, but thank you.” He wouldn’t take his eyes off me. From what I could tell, he had lost a little use of his left side but he seemed spry and aware.

I stood next to his bed, trying to hold it together until the nurse left the room, and then I started crying.

“Don’t cry, please,” he said.

“Thank you . . . for painting that mural and . . . for the letter.” Tears poured from my eyes.

“Thank you for making my night so starry.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t know. I was scared you’d run.”

“It would have been the opposite.” I could barely speak.

“I know that, too. I didn’t want you to stay just because I had cancer.” Adam’s eyes were sympathetic. “But here you are.” He smiled and then pointed to the scar on his head. “They operated and got some of the tumor out, so my brain works better, but my left side is pretty useless. I was left-handed. I can’t paint anymore.” He paused. “At least I got to make that one last mural for you before I went into surgery. I’m starting to have seizures more often, so that’s a bummer. Oh, and I drool a little now. How’s that for progress?”

I laughed because he was smiling the whole time he talked, like nothing could ruin his day.

“So making out is gonna be a little slobbery,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

My lips flattened.

“I’m kidding, Charlotte.”

I let out a breath. “Oh. Okay.”

“Well, thanks for coming by, and you’re welcome for the mural. I figured if I didn’t make it through the surgery, you’d have something to remember me by.”

“And the letter?”

Adam’s warm, chocolatey eyes searched mine. “I meant all of it.”

Out of nowhere, I felt the urge to kiss him, so I did. I leaned down, cupped his chin, and kissed him, gently and slowly. The left side of his mouth was a little slack, but it didn’t matter; he braced the back of my head and kissed me back.

When I pulled away, he said, “Wow. It was true.”

“What?”

“That feeling was real. I didn’t make it up.”

I closed my eyes. My chest was aching. Right at that moment, a member of the hospital cafeteria walked in with a tray. “It’s your favorite, Adam. Chicken fajitas!” the woman said.

“Woohoo!” Adam was genuinely excited. It was charming. “This is the best day ever! Charlotte, sit down, I’ll share. It’ll be like a date.”

This was why I had fallen for him. He was dying in a bed and he was still joyful, buoyant, and charming.

I started laughing and crying at the same time. “Adam, where is your family? How come no one is here with you?”

“My dad can’t be pulled away from his job, you know? And all this is too hard on my mom. It’s no big deal; I mean, I could live ten more years like this. They don’t need to be sitting around waiting for me to die.”

He started pulling lids off the containers. I got up, walked over, and began to help him arrange his lunch so he could use his right hand. “Is that true? You could live ten more years?”

He looked up at me, straight-faced. “What, you don’t believe in miracles anymore?”

I swallowed hard and noticed that my hands were shaking and my voice wouldn’t work.

“I’m kidding. Lighten up, Charlotte.” He put his hand over mine and looked right into my eyes. “Relax, okay? I’m probably gonna die soon.”

I shook my head. There was a small container of broth. I took the lid off and held a spoonful to Adam’s mouth. He opened wide and swallowed the soup.

“I did that for you,” he said, smiling. “I don’t need you to feed me, but I totally enjoyed it.” He held up his right hand. “I can still use this hand, and other body parts, too.” He waggled his eyebrows. What was I doing? I was stumbling all over the situation like a fool. I was about to tell him that I had a boyfriend, but I stopped myself. “And, also, the broth is for people who can’t have solid food.” He lifted the lid off the fajitas. “I got these babies.”

I couldn’t imagine that Adam was dying of brain cancer. He was chipper and so coherent. “What exactly have they told you about . . .” I tensed up.

“About what?” he said, looking concerned.

“About . . . how long you have?”

Half of Adam’s mouth went up.

“Why are you smiling?”

“My beautiful Charlotte. Listen,” he implored, “I’m a ticking-fucking-time-bomb, okay? I could be happily enjoying my fajitas and then just”—he shut his eyes and made a croaking sound.

“That’s terrible!”

“I’m serious, but it’s true for all of us. I’m running out of fucks to give. You could have a stroke or an aneurysm or a freaking heart attack and drop dead right in front of me, lights out.”

“And you wouldn’t give a fuck?”

“No, I would, but I’m not going to waste one second on the possibility of it happening.”

“Adam, please.” He was joking but it was hard for me to laugh.

He took a bite of his fajita. I noticed he was trying very hard to keep the food in his mouth. Once he swallowed, he smiled again and said, “It’s not pretty but it works. Pull up a chair, Charlotte, you’re making me nervous.”

“Why would you be nervous?” I reached for a tissue from his bedside table and wiped my nose.

“I don’t know. I’m afraid you’re going to flee before I have a chance to say good-bye.”

If you asked me seven months earlier how I would have described myself, I would have said fickle, indecisive, directionless, shallow, selfish, and utterly, obliviously ignorant of other people’s feelings. But all of that was changing, along with the rest of my life. Seven months ago, I might’ve walked out of that hospital room the moment I laid eyes on Adam. But now I was there with him and I wanted to change. To learn from his example.

So I made a decision.

“I’m not going anywhere, Adam. I’m staying with you. I might need to leave to get some of my belongings, but you’re coming with me.”

“What?” He set down his fajita and reached his left hand across his body, gesturing for me to take it. Squeezing my hand as best he could, he said, “You have a job and a life. You don’t need to do this.”

“I know I don’t need to; I want to. Are you going to tell me I can’t?”

“But . . .”

“No, listen. I’m sure you don’t need to be in here every second of the day. Am I right?”

“Well . . .”

I took my purse from my shoulder and set it down on the bed so Adam would know I wasn’t leaving. “I’m going to talk to your nurse. I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Okay.”

Adam’s nurse was standing right outside his room, talking to a doctor. “Hello.” I interrupted them. The doctor was an older woman in her sixties with a kind face.

“Hello,” the doctor said.

“Do you need something?” the nurse chimed in.

“I just wanted to know what the deal is with Adam? I mean, can he leave the hospital?”

“Adam’s condition is declining,” the doctor said. “His parents are paying for him to have full-time care here.”

“But he doesn’t actually require hospitalization at this point?”

I had never had so much resolve in my life.

The nurse said, “We’re keeping him comfortable.”

“Okay, I get it. Adam is dying but he’s not dead. Can I take him outside? Can I take him for a drive?”

The doctor shook her head. “You absolutely cannot take him off the property. There are all kinds of liability issues. As much as we would all love to give Adam some time away from this place, we just can’t do it based on the agreement we’ve made with his family.”

My head dropped to the floor. Just before walking away, the doctor added, “I’m sorry.”

When the doctor was gone, the nurse silently followed me into the room. Adam had finished eating and was still wearing a huge grin, which made the nurse smile. “I just realized I haven’t introduced you two,” Adam said. “Charlotte, this is my favorite nurse, Leah.” There was something about Leah that made me instantly trust her. She was older than me, maybe in her midthirties, but there was something in her big bluish-gray eyes that made her seem childlike and honest.

I shook her hand. “Nice to meet you,” I said.

“Likewise,” she returned. “I saw a picture of the mural. It’s beautiful,”

“Yes, that was all Adam, though.”

“Well, you were quite the inspiration for him.”

“Thank you,” I said, feeling less than deserving of the compliment.

As she moved around Adam’s bed, adjusting his pillows and checking his vitals, she began to ramble. “So, Adam gets intravenous drips every four to six hours. It’s pain and antiseizure medication and we keep a line in him for fluids but . . .”

“But otherwise, he’s not being monitored?” I said.

“He is. But you know . . .” She hesitated, looking up at me. “I’m monitoring him from the station.”

I knew what she was getting at.

She stuck a tongue depressor in Adam’s mouth and peered in while she went on. “There’s a track out in back that you can take him around in the wheelchair. There’s a little garden, too.”

“How long can Adam be outside?”

“Well, as long as he’s here for his meals and medication. I check in every two hours to take his vitals, but if he skips once, it might be okay.”

“Uh-huh.”

The whole time the nurse was talking, Adam was just sitting there, happily watching me.

“Charlotte, are you gonna push me around the track?” he said.

“Maybe, if you’re lucky.”

He winked at me. The nurse was smiling as she left the room.

“What’s your plan, small-fry?” he said.

I gripped the handles on the wheelchair and pushed it back and forth a couple of times. “You want to go for a ride, Adam?”

“You’re talking dirty now.”

I laughed. “Come on, you can stand, right?”

He tore his covers off and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. The nurse returned a second later and, without a word, she unhooked his saline bag, leaving the line in his hand but disconnected. She fiddled with a few other things and then helped me guide Adam into the chair. I put the footrests down and brought his feet up from the floor to rest on the metal flaps. “Your feet are freezing.”

“I’ll grab him some socks,” Leah said. When she returned, she handed them to me and pointed out, in a low voice, “The wheelchair collapses from the lever on the side.”

There was no reason for me to know that unless I was taking him in a car off the property. “Thank you. We’ll be back in an hour and a half.”

“It can get pretty congested on the track. He needs to receive his medication or he’ll have a seizure. Just be wary of the traffic. You know, in the hallways and whatnot?”

“Right, hallway traffic.”

On the back of the wheelchair there was a little bag with sunglasses, ChapStick, sunblock, and hand sanitizer. “Are these yours?” I said, holding the black Wayfarer shades out to Adam.

“Yep.” He put them on and smiled wide at Leah as we passed her on our way into the hallway. “Bye, Leah, see you in a bit,” Adam said.


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