Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 23

The Plan

When I arrived at the hospital, there was a large crowd gathered outside Adam’s room. Some of the women were crying. The world around me started spinning. Oh no. My feet felt glued to the floor as I tried to make my way down the hall. I was already crying when Leah met me halfway.

“Who are those people, and what are they doing here?”

She took a step closer to me so that we were inches apart. “That’s Adam’s mom and dad, and over there is Adam’s old boss. The young woman was an ex-girlfriend or something. They’re all here to say good-bye.”

“Good-bye?” My vision started getting hazy. My head swayed on my neck like it was attached with putty. “Wh-why are you so calm?” As I fell to my knees she struggled to pull me up by the shoulders.

“Charlotte, he’s not dead. Stand up, he needs to talk to you.” I still didn’t understand anything.

Everything was still fuzzy until Leah pulled a smelling salt capsule from her pocket, broke it, and waved it in front of my face. My eyes shot open. By that point Adam’s mother and father were standing near us in the middle of the hall.

“Is she okay?” his mother said.

“She thought he had gone and you were all here to say good-bye.”

His mother had mascara running down her face, but she was smiling. “I’m Deanna. You must be Charlotte?”

I reached my hand up weakly and shook hers. “Yes.”

She helped to keep me upright. She seemed conservative, with her natural gray bob, high-necked sweater, and simple makeup.

“Come on,” Leah said. “Let’s go see our boy.” She walked me to Adam’s room with her arm around my waist. Inside, I found him standing near the bed wearing a black sweatshirt, jeans, and a baseball cap. Every person gathered around his room seemed somber as I walked by them. They watched me intently. Adam looked better to me, so I wondered why everyone was down.

Adam looked up and smiled. “I’m busting out of here and I want you to come with me. Will you come with me, Charlotte?”

My mouth was open in shock as I tried to find the words to ask all the questions running through my head. “But you—”

“Have cancer, I know. Finally, you’re getting it.” He jabbed his thumb behind him, pointing to a man hooking his IV line up to a portable device. “Meet Dr. Freedom. We’re taking him with us. My dad is letting us use his driver and private jet.”

“The jet?”

“I have a plan for us. You said you’d agree to my plan, right?” He sat down on the bed and patted the space next to him. “Come, I’ll explain.”

“But the trial . . .”

“The trial will still be here.”

Everyone but Dr. Freedom had left the room and began congregating in the hall, talking in hushed tones.

“So,” Adam said, “I was thinking that I really don’t want to stay here any longer. I called my parents and a few other people and—”

“Your ex-girlfriend?”

“Yeah, well, my dad called her.” Adam rolled his eyes.

“Is she the runner?”

“Yeah.” He looked surprised. “How’d you know that?”

“I have a good memory.”

He jabbed my arm with his finger. “Braggart. Anyway, I told them I was leaving, that you and I were going to take a trip, so they came to say good-bye.”

“Adam . . .”

Placing a finger over my mouth, he said, “Shh, let’s be in the moment now; it’s all we have. Will you go with me?” Before I could answer he leaned in and kissed me. What he wasn’t saying is that everyone was here to say good-bye in case Adam didn’t make it back.

When I pulled away, I said, “But I don’t have any of my stuff.” I was hoping to change his mind.

“Chucky took care of that. He packed a bag while you were in the shower this morning; he even got your passport for you.” I had a passport only because my mom made me get one. I had never used it.

“Chucky went through my drawers?” I imagined him finding some personal items, taking pictures, and putting it on Instagram.

Adam cocked his head to the side and quirked an eyebrow at me. “He wanted to help. Don’t be a brat.”

“Fine. So, passport? We’re going out of the country?”

“I can’t tell you any details. It has to be a surprise.”

“We can’t be gone long. We have to come back so you can start the trial and get the new treatment. I read all about it. It could save you.”

“Don’t worry about a thing. We’re gonna go have some fun before they inject me with more poison.” He smiled wide.

Leaving the hospital was surreal. Each person who was there waiting for Adam to leave knew who I was, hugged me, and thanked me. Most of them were in tears as I pushed Adam in his wheelchair toward the town car waiting at the curb.

We sat next to each other in the back seat and held hands. I put my head on his shoulder and didn’t care where we were going anymore.

“Do you believe in God?” I asked.

“Are you worried about my soul, Charlotte?” His chest rumbled with laughter.

I didn’t want to ruin the moment, but I needed to talk to him, to see where his head was at. “I guess I’m wondering how you feel emotionally . . . if . . . if you’re scared.”

“I’m not scared.”

My head was still on his shoulder, so I couldn’t see his expression, but he lifted my hand to his mouth and kissed my knuckles. “I’ll tell you what I think and what I believe as long as you promise that it won’t make you sad. We’re supposed to be trying to get away from all that sadness. It’s the whole point of what I planned.”

“I know, I know.” I looked up to the driver and Doctor Freedom in the front seat.

Adam lowered his voice to keep the conversation between us. “I believe you have to protect your relationship with God more than any other, Charlotte. Whether you believe in God or not, whether you think God is terrible, truly divine, or absolutely nonexistent, it is the most sacred and intimate relationship we have in our lives.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the definition of God. It’s just something within. That’s what I believe.”

I pulled away from him to look at his face. He was smiling warmly . . . contently. “So when it’s all over . . .”

“Lights out, baby.”

I shook my head; my face fell as tears filled my eyes. “No,” I said.

“You promised me you wouldn’t get sad.” He pressed his lips to mine and I felt our tears mixing together on our cheeks as we kissed and kissed.

When we finally pulled apart I said, “Look, now I’ve made you cry. Don’t you want to believe that we’ll be together again . . . that we’ll see each other again?”

“No, Charlotte.” He shook his head and then turned and stared out the window. “I want to believe that you’ll go on and live your life. This is mine. This is my right now, and I’m taking it.”

Even though I promised him I wouldn’t cry anymore, I couldn’t help it. I felt Adam was being cheated. It made me angry with God and I wasn’t sure how I could repair that relationship, the one I was supposed to protect the most, according to Adam. It was hard for me to understand how he had reconciled that in his own mind.

“You’re not bitter?”

“I don’t think I have a lot of time to waste being bitter.”

He was right. And that was true for all of us.

We ended up at the Getty, standing in front of Starry Night—the Munch, not the Van Gogh, of course. Adam insisted on walking instead of using a wheelchair. He stood behind me and said, “I used to think the Van Gogh was starrier, but now that you’re standing here, there’s no question this one is much brighter.” He came up close behind me, moved my hair to one side, and kissed the back of my neck before whispering, “Thank you for that, by the way.”

It took everything in me not to start crying again, but I promised myself I would give Adam this last little bit of life to live without constantly reminding him he was sick.

“You’re welcome, handsome.” I turned around and wrapped my arms around him. We kissed in front of twenty people, and I didn’t care.

After the museum, the driver took us to the Observatory at Griffith Park, where Adam got down on one knee in the grass.

“What are you doing?” I gasped.

“Charlotte Anne Martin, there are not enough stars in the sky to match the reasons why I love you. Marry me and make me the happiest man on earth?” He produced a simple gold band from his pocket.

I didn’t hesitate. I held my hand out to him. “Yes, I will.” It was the easiest decision I had ever made.

He put the ring on my finger. “Good, because they’re getting my father’s jet ready for us and we need to be at the Van Nuys Airport as soon as possible.” He looked down and laughed at his own helpless state on the ground. “Now, help me up, please.”

Doctor Freedom, who I found out was really named Mark, ran over when he saw me reaching down to lift Adam, but Adam held his hand out, waving him off. “Let me kiss my fiancée first!” Mark stood several feet away and tried to act like he was looking at something in the other direction.

I couldn’t even guess as to how much they were paying an oncologist to play nursemaid to Adam. Mark was a young, easygoing doctor from Oregon. In the short time that I had known him, I could tell he wanted to be there and that he was fond of Adam. I liked to think he wanted to contribute to the cause. It helped that Adam’s dad’s pockets were deep; Adam himself had donated a lot of his money before he was even hospitalized.

Everyone coming together for Adam made more sense to me because of Adam’s magnetism, his joy, and his courage as he faced what could be the end of his life. It was painfully sad, but also moving and life-affirming for those of us who were lucky enough to know him during that time.

A private Learjet flew us to New York, where we boarded a commercial flight to Paris.

Mark was diligent about administering Adam’s drugs while we traveled. Adam and I took up three first-class seats, and if Adam was uncomfortable at all, he said nothing about it. I caught him stealing glances at me every now and then. Out of the corner of my eye, I’d see him smile and I’d smile myself.

When the lights went down in the cabin, Mark took a seat across the aisle from where Adam and I sat. The three of us reclined our chairs and dozed off. Adam’s hand clutched mine the whole flight.

Just before we landed in Paris, Adam had a small seizure. Mark calmly intervened, giving another type of drug, which adversely made Adam very groggy. Still, instead of using the narrow wheelchair from the airline to get to the jetway, Adam insisted on walking.

Adam had booked two rooms next to each other in a lavish five-star hotel that overlooked the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t think I would see Paris this way, even in my wildest dreams: sitting out on a verandah, staring at the Eiffel Tower’s magnificence. Still, a doctor checked the vitals of my suffering fiancé, which wasn’t part of the original fantasy. I wish I could say that it was the most romantic time of my life, but it was so equally tragic that it felt surreal and gut-wrenching at times. Yet, there were still moments of magic. I allowed myself to go to that place with Adam. I imagined Dr. Mark wasn’t really there, and that Adam and I were experiencing Paris the way I had described it to him.

I had never been out of California before except to visit my aunt in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the three times I had been to Las Vegas. I hadn’t even dreamed of going to Europe. I was living in a bubble where I thought everyone exaggerated how amazing the world truly was. You know the people who think seeing it in a picture is like seeing it in real life? Well, it’s not. Because when you’re there, you’re not just seeing it. It’s the sounds, the smells of Paris, the way the air feels on your skin, the way the wine tastes different when you drink it from Parisian glasses while sitting in a wicker chair outside a café on a cobblestone street. You can’t re-create the hum of a foreign language being spoken over and over itself. It sounds like music. The way the sun rises and sets, the shadows on the buildings, the car horns honking in the distance. It’s all different, new, and fascinating to experience when you travel far away from home.

We spent the first few days exploring Paris as much as we could without pushing Adam too hard. On the third day, we got married in a little chapel. He wore a black suit. His hair had started to grow back on his head and face. I wanted to use that fact as some sort of proof that his body was okay. I wore a plain, A-line, tea-length white dress.

Adam and I stood face-to-face while the priest spoke in French to officiate the wedding ceremony . . . our wedding ceremony. It didn’t matter what language he was speaking; we understood what he was saying. There was a handful of people just sitting in the chapel, and, of course, Dr. Mark looking on as our witness.

In heavily accented English, the priest gestured toward Adam and said, “Your vows now.”

While holding my hands and looking into my eyes, Adam smiled and said, “If you told me I could have another life, a longer life, but that I couldn’t have you, I’d say no thanks. I’d take you and my short life over and over again.”

I started to cry instantly because, even in our vows, there was so much resignation. “But . . .”

He put his fingers to my lips. “Wait, lady, let me say my vows.”

I nodded as tears poured from my eyes.

“Every night since that night in my loft, I’ve fallen asleep thinking about you, standing in front of Starry Night—”

I interrupted him by leaning in and kissing him—a full, passionate kiss. I put everything I had into it because the truth was that every night since that night in Adam’s loft, I had fallen asleep thinking about being with him, too. Even when I was with Seth, lying in Seth’s arms, I would doze off to the image of Adam and me holding hands and kissing the way we were right now.

“No, no,” the priest said. “Not time yet.”

Adam pulled away and laughed. I was speechless.

“I am totally in love with you, not because you’re here right now or because you’ve taken care of me; it’s because when you laugh, it sounds like pure joy. It’s because you walk super fast with your head down, and when you stop to look up, you seem surprised every time. Like the world is surprising you with its beauty. I love the way you see the world, Charlotte. That’s why I love you. When I thought of you looking at Starry Night, it wasn’t just that it was brighter to me; it was that I knew it would seem brighter to you. You don’t know how beautiful that quality is. You’re already so beautiful and kind, but then you have this hope and promise in your eyes, too. And you’re also the sexiest woman I have ever known.”

“Adam,” I chided. The priest shrugged and looked away. At that point I don’t think he was too overly concerned about propriety.

“Charlotte, I am so selfish for doing this to you.” I shook my head, but Adam continued. “For telling you all of this when I could be leaving you so soon. Until then, I promise to be the best husband I can. Until death do us part,” he said with a lopsided grin.

I was not amused. “Don’t be a quitter, Bramwell,” I said straight-faced. I captured his face in my hands and looked deep into his cozy brown eyes. “Till death do us part is for quitters. I promise to love you forever. As long as there is love in this world, we will be a part of it.” I meant it. No matter what happened, I would always love him. I know to others it would seem odd that we fell for each other so easily, even under the worst circumstances, but Adam was exactly the right person for me.

We kissed, and after several seconds, the priest cleared his throat. We let him finish his ceremony. Adam and I walked down the aisle, side by side, holding hands while soft music played overhead.

“Wait,” Adam said. He looked up to the dome-shaped ceiling and window blasting light down onto us and just stared for several moments.

“What is it, Adam?” I said.

“Nothing. Let’s go.”

We headed out to the taxi waiting for us. Dr. Mark let us ride alone but he caught the next one and followed close behind. We held hands the whole way, but we were quiet.

“Adam, I’m afraid you’re going to do something really stupid,” I said, worried that his silence meant he was making decisions in his mind.

“Like what? I’m not going to kill myself, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I know that. I don’t want you to give me any of your possessions or try to take care of me after you’re gone. I just realized . . .”

“What, that you’re my wife now?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“I’m not. I’m just going to give you my last million so you can have some fun with it.”

“You don’t have a million dollars . . . do you?”

“Yeah, probably not. I stopped keeping track of that stuff a long time ago.”

“Whatever you have, donate it to cancer research or something. You can’t give me your money, Adam.”

“Sure I can.”

“Adam, I will be so mad at you. Promise me you will not give me a penny.”

He laughed. “Okay, I promise you I will not give you a penny.”

“I don’t want to talk like this anymore. I want to talk about the trial and what we’re going to do when we get back and what our plan is.”

“I promise we’ll talk about that, but not right now.”

I shook my head.

“I promise, Charlotte. We’ll talk about it.”

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