Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 20

Good and Bad

Adam had good days and bad. There would be times when it seemed like he was a completely normal guy, except smarter and funnier and more genuine than anyone I had ever met. And then he’d have a seizure and get really depressed. They took solid food off the menu for a couple of days after I first arrived. It made him feel like an invalid, even though he wasn’t. I snuck In-N-Out Burger into the hospital as often as I could, and on the fourth day, I snuck Adam out to the drive-thru. He promised me he wouldn’t touch the food until we were back at the hospital, but he tried to sneak fries anyway. I was worried that he’d have a seizure in the car and choke to death on his food. It made driving in LA all the worse.

He joked, “Mysterious artist dying of brain cancer chokes to death on his double-double with cheese.”

“It’s not funny.”

“It’s totally funny. I love this song, can you turn it up?”

I reached and turned the dial up on the Vance Joy song “Red Eye.” Adam bobbed his head to the music. At the stoplight I looked over at him. He was wearing the black beanie my brother had given him, his black Wayfarers, and the hospital gown.

I laughed.

He turned to me and smiled. “What?” he said.

“You’re cute.”

“Oh yeah? Wanna fool around?” He grinned.

I was glad that Adam couldn’t see my eyes welling up behind my sunglasses.

The car behind us honked. I hit the gas and my car lurched forward from the intersection. “How much time do we have?” I asked.

“What? Are you serious?”

“Yes, Adam, I am serious.” He was having a good day.

He reached for my phone. “We have like an hour and a half before Leah freaks out.”

I knew I was taking a big chance, but how could I say no to him? There was so much joy in him that day just because he got to go to the drive-thru at In-N-Out.

“Okay.” I glanced over at him and flattened my lips. “You better not have a seizure on me.”

“I can’t think of a better place to have a seizure. Although I can see how that wouldn’t be much fun for you.”

I laughed hysterically. “Oh man, I didn’t mean literally on me; I meant on my watch.”

“Well, Charlotte, I don’t have much control over that, but I’ll try. You know what helps?”

“What?”

“Alcohol.”

“Really?”

As we passed the Four Seasons he said, “Pull in here.”

“This is too expensive, Adam.”

“What? Are you crazy?” The energy in the car was tangible. “This may be the last time I ever go to a hotel with a girl. I’m paying. I have a ton of money. Come on, Charlotte, please?” His mood was instantly lighter than it had been in several days.

“Okay.” I did a U-turn and pulled into the driveway of the hotel.

A valet greeted us right away. “Checking in?” he said, when I rolled down my window.

“Yes,” Adam barked over me.

“Last name?” the valet asked.

“Bramwell,” Adam said.

The young valet looked at Adam with suspicion but wrote the valet ticket anyway. I got the wheelchair out of the back, then helped Adam into it. He had the In-N-Out take-out bag on his lap. I wheeled him into the fancy lobby and got a lot of strange looks.

At the front desk, the clerk tried to seem normal when she took Adam’s credit card.

“The only handicap accessible room I have available is a suite,” she said.

“Perfect,” Adam returned with his lopsided smile.

The clerk handed over our keys and pointed us to the elevator. As I pushed Adam to the room, he whistled out a song. We entered a lavishly decorated suite with a large living and dining area, a huge fluffy bed, and a giant sunken tub smack in the middle of a bathroom the size of my apartment.

“Find the alcohol, Charlotte!” Adam shouted from the entryway. I found a minibar stocked full.

I grabbed minibottles of tequila and vodka and held them out to Adam. “Are you sure this is okay?”

“Yes,” he declared. “Which one do you want?”

“Either one.”

I swigged the vodka and he the tequila, and then I wheeled him over to the bar for another round. We ate In-N-Out and laughed and talked and drank a little more. Adam seemed really relaxed.

“Should we take a bath in that awesome tub?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Adam. I’d be scared to. What if something happens?”

“Please.” His eyes were pleading. “Please. I promise nothing will happen to me.”

“Okay,” I said but my heart was pounding. I was worried he’d have a seizure and I wouldn’t be able to get him out in time.

Inside the bathroom, I filled the tub up with warm water and bubbles. Adam was leaning against the counter as he removed his hospital gown. When he was naked, my mouth fell open in shock. He was much thinner than before. “Big difference, huh?” he said.

I shook my head and tried to will away the tears. I walked toward him, cupped his face, and looked into his eyes. “You’re still the most handsome guy I know.” It was true. Adam was classically handsome even in his condition. It was undeniable. I kissed him once and then helped him climb into the tub.

Once he was in, he didn’t stop smiling. He looked like the Adam I knew from that one night. It seemed like his smile was wider than possible. “Now, are you gonna put on a show for me or what?” he said.

I turned on my heel and glared at him. “Me? No!”

“Well, you have to take your clothes off to get in here. Make it fun.”

I huffed. “I’m kind of shy in that way.”

“You weren’t shy the night we were together.”

He was right—I wasn’t. I stared at the ceiling, pondering what I should do. I looked down at Adam, who was still wearing a ridiculous grin. Would Seth understand this part? Was Seth even a factor anymore?

“Let me find some music.” I put The 1975 on the iPod dock in the other room and cranked up the volume. I gathered myself and then went back into the bathroom and tried desperately not to make eye contact with Adam as I began to undress.

“How could you say no to a dying man?”

I pointed at him. “Don’t!”

He started laughing.

“You haven’t played that card yet so why start now?”

When the music picked up, I peeled off my jeans and watched as Adam arched his barely existent eyebrows and started bobbing his head. He was mesmerized. I lifted my shirt over my head and stood in front of him in my black bra and panties.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered.

When I unhooked my bra and tossed it aside, his mouth fell open and his eyes went wide. He was up to his neck in bubbles and it made me laugh. I turned and bent seductively in front of him to peel my panties down.

“Oh my god, Charlotte . . . this is how I want to die . . . with you, standing naked in front of me. Don’t forget that part, okay? When it’s time for me to go, you have to get naked, just like this, right in front of me.”

“That might be a little awkward for the doctors and nurses.”

“Come on. Now get in here, I want to touch you.”

As I stepped in, he reached both his hands up to guide me. The water sloshed over the sides of the tub, spilling onto the floor.

“Shit,” I said.

“It’s okay, just come here.”

I sat between his legs with my back to his front. He kissed my shoulder and then my neck before slowly moving up to my ear. I shivered when he reached around and cupped my breast. Adam had lost some fine-motor skills in his left hand and he had trouble walking because his left leg wouldn’t always cooperate, but in that moment, when we were together and he was kissing me and touching me and our bodies were pressed against each other, there was no cancer, there was no death pending. I could think of nothing else but how right it all felt.

It was impossible not to question myself leading up to that day in the hotel room. I knew Adam and I had something unique, but it was hard for me to describe. If someone asked me why I felt so connected to him, I would say, “I just do, I can’t explain it.” I knew it had nothing to do with his tumor or the mural. It had to do with that thing, that feeling that allowed me to walk away from my apartment in the middle of the night seven months ago. When I looked into Adam’s eyes, I felt like I could see his sincere, genuine soul.

When thoughts of Seth would pop into my mind, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a twinge of guilt. I hoped he’d understand, but if he didn’t, it still wouldn’t change my decision to be with Adam now. It wasn’t about Adam’s wish, it was about Adam and me and seeing it through. Everyone always said I dated men who were off-limits so that I wouldn’t have to get serious about anyone. Adam might have been dying, but he wasn’t off-limits. He was baring it all for me and I was going to do the same for him, even though I knew it would break me into a million pieces.

I turned and straddled him in the tub. Our kisses became more demanding. When he touched me down below, I lost all sense of our circumstances. I wanted him and I could tell he wanted me, and nothing else mattered.

“Let’s get out of here and go to the bed,” he said.

Adam stood and wrapped a towel around his waist. He was strong in that moment. He was driven.

I dried myself off and then met him on the bed. When we ditched the towels, I could see how turned on he was. I climbed on top of him and kissed him hard before sitting up and letting him look at me. My body was totally exposed to him in the well-lit room. He watched with wonder in his eyes. “I’m in heaven, right?” he said. It looked like he believed it.

“Yes, this is heaven, Adam.” I bent and clutched his face with both hands and kissed him delicately before moving to his neck and shoulder.

“Mmm, you’re an angel for sure,” he murmured.

“This is heaven for me, too,” I whispered near his ear. A moment later he was inside of me and I was moving on top of him. I was unself-conscious. He gripped my hips and thrust into me, matching my movements. “Adam . . .” I moaned.

I pressed my hands to his chest and moved harder and faster. For just a few minutes the whole world slipped away and it was just the two of us. Adam’s body felt warm and strong, for the first time since that night in his loft.

He pulled me to his chest, gripped my bottom with both hands, and thrust harder as I lay on top of him. “Feel me inside of you,” he whispered. My mouth was on his neck, kissing and sucking while he continued his steady movements. “Feel me, Charlotte.”

All I could do in that moment was feel Adam, everywhere around me and inside of me. I kissed him hard on the mouth. Our tongues twisted as our movements became more urgent. Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, I felt the tension start to break apart. “Adam . . .” I said with my mouth against his chest. He didn’t make a sound, just one last hard thrust and then his hands dropped to his sides. He shut his eyes and turned his head. He was grinning but his arms and legs had gone lax and he wasn’t moving or making a sound.

“Adam?” I was smiling at first, but when he seemed unresponsive for a moment I began to panic. “Adam!”

“You killed me,” he said softly.

“Open your eyes, you scared the crap out of me.”

He looked up and smiled wider. “That was amazing.”

“It was perfect.”

“I mean, I really thought you killed me, Charlotte. I had already decided it was the best death ever.”

I glanced at the clock behind him. “I feel like we should get going,” I said.

“Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. I don’t even get a cuddle?”

“We can cuddle at the hospital.”

“Come here, calm down. What’s going to happen?”

“You’ll get in trouble.”

“Ha! Are they gonna put me on restriction? I’ve already been reduced to Jell-O and broth. What will they do next, take away my TV?”

“Maybe they’ll tell me I can’t stay.”

He tilted my chin up so we were eye to eye. “Charlotte, are you worried about that?”

“Of course.”

“They wouldn’t do that. Plus, my dad is paying for a new cancer wing. They’re not going to kick my girlfriend out and jeopardize getting a fancy new Adam Bramwell Memorial Wing, complete with Adam Bramwell paintings.”

“Girlfriend?”

He tensed. “I mean . . . friend. Whatever. Hey, you’re the one who said you were my girlfriend. Remember that little fib you came up with that night at my loft?”

“I liked that story,” I protested.

“Me too.” We were silent for several moments before Adam spoke in a strained voice. My face was resting on his chest so I couldn’t see his expression, but it sounded like it pained him to speak. “Why does the story have to end?”

“It doesn’t,” I said immediately.

“Then tell me about our life, Charlotte.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Well . . . okay, let me see . . . we moved into your loft together at some point. I loved your loft, by the way.”

“Me too.”

“So we lived in the loft and then we . . . got married? Yes, we got married. I finally said yes to you.”

“Of course. I had to make an honest woman out of you. But that’s not why I married you.” The story began to take on a life of its own, with both of us participating. “We got married because we were in love.”

“Yes, we were in love.”

“Tell me more. Tell me about the wedding and the honeymoon.”

“We did our honeymoon first, actually. You surprised me by whisking me off to Paris. We wandered along the Seine and bought trinkets at the bouquinistes. We toured all of the major museums, wandered through Saint-Germain, ate at the brasseries where the American expats used to hang out in the twenties, and spent hours at Shakespeare and Company. Then you took me out on a boat and taught me to sail.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, on the French Riviera.” I had closed my eyes at that point and was imagining a healthy Adam wrapping a line around a winch as we sailed on the crystal-blue Mediterranean.

“How’d you know I could sail?” he asked. “Did I tell you that?”

“I saw a copy of a sailing magazine in your loft that night.”

“So, I taught you how to sail and you were a quick study?”

“Obviously.”

“Is that what you want? Is that your dream, Charlotte? To learn how to sail in France?”

Don’t ruin this, Adam. I don’t like reality very much right now. “I’m just telling you what we did.”

“Uh-huh. Okay, go on.”

“So you taught me how to sail and then later that day we found a little chapel and we got married.”

“That sounds nice,” he said, but then he went quiet for several moments.

“It was, Adam. Not just nice—it was perfect.”

“Hmm.” Several moments passed before he said, “Too bad, isn’t it? Too bad it’s not true.”

I leaned up and kissed him. “We have right now and yesterday and the night we met. That’s all real to me, and it’s enough.”

He smiled piteously. “I know you have someone else waiting for you, Charlotte.”

I swallowed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you have someone in your life. I overheard you and Helen—”

I put my finger to his mouth. “Shhh. I’m here with you now, Adam. I want to be here with you.”

“We should get back to the hospital,” he said.

I sat up on the edge of the bed with my back to him. “Please don’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“Please don’t ruin the time we have.” I turned to face him. “I love you. That’s not a story. That’s not a lie.”

“You shouldn’t. You can’t. You barely know me, and I’m dying.”

“I know enough . . . and will you please stop saying that?”

“I’m a charity case to you, but I’m not a fool.”

“Charity case, Adam? You obviously don’t know me. I don’t even buy Girl Scout cookies. I fell for you. I haven’t stopped thinking about you since the night we met. I just didn’t think you were into me. I wished that someone felt like they wanted a future with me and loved hearing my fantasties without getting scared off. No one has given that to me, ever. Not until you. That night was the first time I ever felt worthy. You changed me, Adam, and you’re changing me now.”

With a furrowed brow, he said, “So you feel like you owe me?”

“We need to get you back for your meds. You’re getting grumpy.”

I stood and walked to the bathroom to gather our things. Before we left, I took a quick shower and then got Adam into his gown and chair. He sat with me in the bathroom and stared at me in my bra and underwear while I blow-dried my hair near the counter. In the mirror, I saw his face grow penitent as he watched me. Over the sound of the hair dryer, he shouted, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I shouted back.

“I ruined it!”

“You ruined nothing!”

“I loved the story, Charlotte! Thank you!”

“I love it, too, and you’re welcome!” I still sounded angry, but then in the mirror I could see Adam laughing behind me and it made me laugh.

“You’re moody, Adam Bramwell!”

“I know, I’m sorry.” He was still laughing.


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