Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 24

Time to Talk

In our hotel later that night, with Dr. Mark a room away and all of Adam’s medications sitting on a bedside table, we made love, slow and sweet. It was sacred. Afterward, Adam was weak but he seemed content. Sometime in the middle of the night, I startled awake, a wave of paranoia racing through my chest. I rolled over and put my hand over Adam’s heart to make sure it was beating.

He whispered, “I’m not quite done yet, if you don’t mind.” He laughed quietly, and I wanted to punch him.

“Not funny. I think we should talk about our plan.”

“We have already,” he said as his hand moved between my legs.

He was touching me and kissing my collarbone and I was losing all sense. “Don’t try to get out of this, Adam.”

“This is the best I’ve felt in a while.”

“Ahhh.” I couldn’t stay quiet. He was moving faster and kissing harder.

It was dark in our room except for the light from the tower. The window looked like a painting. Everything was still except for us. I could feel myself coming undone. I held his mouth to mine, trying to stifle the moans.

He pulled away and whispered, “I can feel you coming, Charlotte. Let go.”

I did, and for several minutes he held me close to his chest. We should have been having the conversation but Adam was doing everything to distract me, even making jokes.

“I can’t drive a car, but I can make a woman come in less than five minutes.”

I ignored his joke. “When we get back, you’ll do the treatment—”

“I think the story goes, we get married, have children, go to concerts together, read in the park, watch our children grow, get old, and sit in rockers on the porch. Sound good?”

“I’m being serious.”

“So am I. Worst-case scenario, I die tonight in your arms, which wouldn’t be so terrible.”

I started crying. “Stop, please. I have a tiny bit of hope to hold on to now.”

He pulled me to him and kissed my nose. “You’re getting very attached. I can’t stand the thought of you being in pain.”

I nodded into his chest.

“When you said you’ll love me forever—”

“I meant it,” I said.

“I want you to say to me that you will be fine and you’ll move on and love someone and make a life.”

“I’ve told you that already.” My voice broke.

“I need to believe you this time.”

It was quiet for several moments.

“I’m afraid if you believe it, then you’ll let go.”

I know he could feel my tears on his skin.

“I don’t think it works that way, doll-face.”

“You know what I mean.”

“It’s for me, Charlotte. It’s so I can stop feeling guilty about giving you something and possibly taking it all away. You seemed genuine when you said forever. It scared me a little.”

I sat up and straddled his body. “I’m going to kill you myself if you don’t stop acting so resigned and feeling guilty. I’m here because I want to be. And I meant it when I said I’ll love you forever.”

He shook his head.

“Don’t shake your head at me.”

“Say it,” he demanded.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Say it, Charlotte.”

“I will go on.”

“That’s the only way you can really love me forever; you know that, right?”

“Yes,” I whispered, and then cried some more. He pulled me back down to lie on his chest. Moments later he was asleep. I stayed awake thinking about how in the world I would make good on my promise to him if I had to.

I woke to a spear of sunlight shining over my face. Adam was awake already, lying on his side, watching me.

I turned to face him. “How are you feeling?”

His one-sided smirk appeared. “Most commonly asked question of a dying man.”

“You’re obviously well enough to make jokes, although your speech is worse this morning than it was yesterday.” He was getting harder to understand as he continued to lose feeling on the left side of his face.

“Can you just be my wife today and leave the examinations to Mark?”

I kissed him. “Fine. What should we do with our day, husband?”

He glanced at the clock. “We’re traveling. We need to be ready in an hour.”

Adam arranged a private plane to fly us an hour and a half away to the Côte d’Azur, aka the French Riviera, where we checked into a room looking right out onto the perfectly blue harbor freckled with sailboats.

I stood on the balcony while Mark examined Adam on the bed behind me.

“What do you see, Charlotte?” Adam said.

“It’s mesmerizing . . . captivating. There are buildings of all different colors around us, with tile roofs. The sun is blasting them, making them all look a different shade of yellow, and the water is so clear I can see the reef below the surface. The sailboats look painted, as do the thousands of tiny people on the small stretch of beach below us. It’s magical. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I wish I could paint you like that,” he said.

I turned around to see Adam in his chair, watching me as I stood in a flowing white skirt on the balcony. My hair was dancing on my shoulders in natural, reddish-brown waves. I hadn’t worn makeup since we left the States. It just didn’t feel necessary anymore. I smiled at him. “You’re sweet. You like Charlotte au naturel?”

“I like Charlotte any and every way.” He wheeled himself toward me and looked out at the ocean. “You weren’t lying, were you?”

I reached for his hand. “It’s beautiful, Adam. Thank you for bringing me here.”

His hand squeezed mine painfully. I looked down to see the familiar sign of him beginning to have a seizure.

“Mark!” I yelled. He was at my side in a moment, trying to get Adam on the floor.

“Get a pillow!” Mark yelled to me.

Adam was thrashing on the tile floor. The only thing you can do for a person having a seizure like that is to try to prevent them from hurting themselves or you. Mark had no more stops to pull out. He had been giving Adam more medicine than he thought a person could even handle. Still, Adam was holding on. At times, he could barely speak or walk, but whenever I looked at him he still tried to smile. We had to get back; I knew that.

When the seizure was over, while Adam lay in Mark’s arms, Mark looked up at me and said, “He’s in pain, you know?” Adam didn’t say anything. He was still out of it.

I knew he was in pain. I would see Adam wince every now and then, but every time I asked, he would blow it off. He hated the seizures, I knew that. He would be so sore afterward that he would groan in his sleep. He was taking thirty different medications, which all had adverse side effects. I think the only thing truly keeping him alive was maybe the same hope I was holding on to.

“I know he’s in pain. What do we do?” I started to cry. “How can we help him? This doesn’t feel merciful.”

“God is not always merciful.”

I thought that to be a strange comment from a doctor.

“I mean, isn’t there something we can do?”

Mark shook his head and looked down at Adam. “It’s unethical . . .”

“I’m not asking you to do that, Mark! He’s going to do that trial at Cedars. There’s still a chance for him. I just don’t want to see him in pain. We should get back to the States.” I was angry, but tears were still pouring from my eyes. It was so painful to watch Adam suffer.

When he started to come out of the seizure fog, Mark looked up at me thoughtfully and said, “What trial were you talking about?”

“He hasn’t told you?”

“If you’re referring to what I think you’re referring to, he applied for it but was rejected.”

I started shaking my head.

“Charlotte,” Dr. Mark pressed on, “do you know why we’re here?”

“No,” I squeaked out. I couldn’t hear it. I ran into the bathroom where I collapsed against the door and sobbed.

Half an hour later, after trying to collect myself, I came out of the bathroom to find Adam watching me from his chair near the balcony. “You should . . .” He stuttered painfully. It felt like my heart was being ripped out when he struggled to talk.

“Take it slow, Adam.” I moved closer to him.

I could see he was trying to find the words. “Ch-change,” he said. “Wh-wh-we’re going sailing.”

I smiled sadly.

“Aren’t you hap-happy about that, Ch-Charlotte?”

“Yes, very.”

“I–I don’t like to see you upset.”

“This is hard.” The lump was growing in my throat. “It’s hard to watch.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

“Adam, how can we even go sailing in your condition?”

“I’ve hired people to-to-to help. Mark knows how to sail, that was one of the pre-pre—”

“Don’t, Adam. Just wait until you feel better.”

“I’m okay. I was going to say pre-pre-requisites for taking this j-job. Also, he’s a genius.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Mark said. “But I can teach you how to sail, Charlotte, and for some reason this guy really wants that to happen.”

I knew Mark had a wife and small children waiting for him at home; I thought what he was doing was noble. I can’t imagine what his interview must have looked like. Will you take care of this sick man on the French Riviera while teaching his new wife how to sail? Seemed too bizarre to be real, but I guess every moment with Adam was like that from the time we met.

Adam, Mark, two deckhands, and I went out onto the perfect blue water of the French Riviera and sailed in a beautiful forty-foot yacht for three days. I learned how to raise and lower the sails, change directions, anchor, steer, and all the strange lingo to go with it, while Adam watched in awe from the cockpit. “Charlotte, let’s head that way and anchor a bit!” Adam shouted over the wind.

I went to the steering wheel and took over from Mark. “Ready about?” I said. Mark rushed to let the lines out and crank the winch. Adam reached back and helped the best he could from where he was sitting, but he had grown much weaker in those few days. He could hardly do anything anymore. Yet I was still in denial.

We found a calm cove and anchored. Mark jumped in the warm water and swam around before climbing back on board and making lunch for us, all while Adam and I took in the beauty of our surroundings. Later, I sat with Adam on the deck while Mark took a nap down below. Adam was wrapped in a blanket. Even though it was seventy-five degrees, he was getting the chills. I held him.

“You’re a regular, pro, Charlotte,” he mumbled. “You picked it up really fast. A quick study, just like I predicted.”

“It’s captain to you, buddy.”

“Charlotte?”

“Yes, Adam.”

“Mark and my family already know. I want to be cremated.”

“Then why are you telling me if they already know?”

“Here, in France.”

“No.”

“Please, listen to me. I like this spot, for some of my ashes.”

“No.”

He gripped my face with his trembling hands and said, “And I want to ask you to take the rest to my mother.”

“No.”

“Then move on, okay? Move on.”

“No.”

This was the only mercy I could give him, but I was too selfish.

“Charlotte, I’m in a lot of pain.”

I began sobbing. “Okay, okay, I’ll do whatever you ask.” I told him what I knew he needed to hear.

“I love you. You’re the love of my life. No one could mean it more.” He was struggling so badly to talk.

“Shh. Don’t talk.”

“I have to tell you that I thought a lot about it and I do think I’ll see you again . . . I know I will.” I still didn’t know if Adam was saying it for me or for him.

“I love you, too, and we will be together.”

“We will,” he said.

I kissed his face, then pulled him closer to my body and held him to my chest. He closed his eyes finally. I felt him relax.

“Mark,” I said in a resigned, beaten-down voice. I had nothing left. Mark came up the ladder from below and saw me holding Adam on the deck.

“I think . . . I think something’s wrong,” I said.

Mark moved to raise the anchor. I stayed still, holding Adam on the deck as we sailed the calm water back into the harbor. I stroked Adam’s face. I could feel that he was still breathing, but it was weak and shallow. When we docked, there was a team waiting to help Adam into an ambulance. He was taken to a hospital nearby.


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