Graduation Night, continued....
When Adam woke up from his drugged sleep, his parents were gone but there was a pile of clothes by his bedside. Mostly T-shirts and sweatpants, but Adam was grateful to have them. He changed out of the hospital gown into a pair of gray sweatpants and a shirt with the logo of a local baseball team.
As he finished pulling on the T-shirt, Cindy came into his room, wheeling in that chair with the broken footrest. As annoying as that chair had been, Adam was so happy to see it, he almost burst into tears.
“This is all we have right now,” Cindy said, somewhat apologetically. “And we need it back in about two hours. We’re taking a patient down for an MRI.”
“There’s another disabled patient here?”
Cindy frowned. “No, of course not. The patients have to be wheeled down for the MRI.”
It seemed a little unfair to Adam that a patient who could walk should get the only wheelchair on the floor, but he wasn’t about to start complaining. He transferred into the broken chair, relieved to finally get out of bed again. “Is there a phone around here that I could use?” he asked.
“It’s in the music room,” Cindy told him.
Adam tried to make do with the chair. When he wheeled himself, the one foot dragged against the floor. He was anxious about getting a cut on his foot, because it always took a long time to heal. Finally, he placed his feet so they were sharing the one remaining footrest. It was somewhat precarious, but it had to do.
He wheeled outside of the room and saw a sign with an arrow that said, “Music Room.” He followed these directions and eventually came to a room with a piano inside. His roommate Leo was at the piano, playing chopsticks. Leo looked up, “Hey, man. Lookin’ good. I guess they finally got you that chair.”
As Adam shifted his weight, one foot fell out of a footrest and he had to pick it up and readjust it. “Where’s the phone in this place?” he asked.
Leo pointed to the wall. Adam wheeled over to the phone quickly, as if he was afraid someone else might get there first. He picked up the receiver and dialed Maggie’s number, which he now knew by heart. He heard the ringing on the other line and when Maggie answered, his heart skipped a beat. “Maggie?”
It made him happy to know that she still recognized his voice so easily. It was some proof that he meant something to her. “Maggie, I need your help.”
He could instantly hear the guarded tone in her voice: “What is it?”
“Maggie, I... I’m in the hospital...” He glanced over at Leo, who didn’t appear to be listening.
“What’s wrong?” She sounded concerned, at least. “Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay,” Adam said, gripping the receiver. “That... that fucker Roger tried to poison me.”
“You heard me,” Adam said. “You know the whole story. I was going to testify that he was the one driving that night and... he couldn’t let that happen, could he?”
“Oh my god,” Maggie murmured. “I... I just can’t imagine Roger doing something like that. Did you tell the police?”
“No, because nobody fucking believes me,” Adam said. “Maggie, I’m in a psychiatric ward. They think I’m crazy.”
Maggie’s tone once again became guarded: “So what do you want me to do?”
“You’re the only one who knows the truth,” he reminded her. “I need you to come down here and... and tell my doctor that I’m not making this up.”
“Come... come down to the hospital?”
“It’s not that big a deal.” Please Maggie, don’t disappoint me again...
“I... I’m very busy with work and all...”
“You’re busy?” Adam repeated. “Listen Maggie, I’m in a locked psychiatric unit. They’re giving me these drugs because they think I’m nuts. Even my parents think I’m crazy. I was in restraints yesterday. You’re the only one who can get me out.”
“I... I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” Adam said firmly. He was trying not to lose his temper but it was hard. “I need you, Maggie.”
“You don’t understand. I can’t.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Adam cried. “I’m locked up right now! How can you leave me like this?”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Adam had always defended to himself what Maggie had done years ago, when she had abandoned him after the accident. In his eyes, Maggie could do no wrong. But now he could see how selfish she was. It was true that he didn’t understand her reasons, but this was the least she could do after all he had done for her over the years. Every time she had ever needed him, he had dropped everything and come running. To him, that was what love was about.
“I love you, Maggie,” Adam said softly. “You know I do. I always have. But if you can’t do this for me, that’s the end of it. I’ll know that I can’t count on you for anything.”
“I’m sorry,” Maggie said again.
He heard a click and realized the other line was dead. He slammed down the phone and buried his face in his hands.
Adam lay in bed, trying to drown out the sound of Leo talking. It seemed like that guy never shut up, despite the fact that he claimed to be medicated. Now Leo was talking about how easily Adam could score some percocet, considering he was in a wheelchair and all. “These docs’ll feel bad for you, man,” Leo said. “You come in, a young guy in a wheelchair and all, say you’re in pain, they’ll write for anything you want. I had a friend who used to do it all the time... of course, he didn’t really need the wheelchair...”
Adam thought that if he listened to much more of this, he really was going to go crazy. As he silently willed Leo to stop talking, very suddenly he got his wish. Leo stopped in mid-sentence.
Before Adam had a chance to wonder why, he looked over and saw that Brynne had entered the room. Leo was staring at her, his mouth wide open. He was practically drooling. Adam pressed the buttons on his bed to move himself into a sitting up position. “Hi, Brynne,” he said.
Brynne smiled a little bit tearfully. Her beautiful eyes looked puffy. “Hi, Adam.”
“Adam, aren’t you going to introduce me?” Leo asked, jumping off his bed.
“Leo, this is Brynne, my girlfriend.”
Leo stared at Adam now, with a mixture of shock and admiration. “Wow, man,” Leo murmured. “I didn’t know you were a player.”
Adam rolled his eyes and Brynne giggled. “It’s nice to meet you, Leo,” she said sweetly. “Do you think you could give us some time alone?”
Somehow Leo was persuaded to leave and then it was just Adam and Brynne, alone in the room. He shifted uncomfortably. “How did you know I was here?” he asked her.
“I called Roger,” Brynne said softly. “He told me everything.” A lone tear escaped from her eye.
Adam sighed. He didn’t know what Roger told her, but whatever it was, he knew it was a bunch of lies. Of course, she had believed those lies, because Adam was the one who was in a psychiatric hospital now. It’s harder to believe the person who had to be carried to the hospital in restraints.
“I had a feeling something was going on,” Brynne said. She sat down on the bed, by his side. She put her hand on top of his and gave it a squeeze. “I just want you to know that I’m not going to abandon you. I’m going to help you get better. I still love you, even if you’re sick.”
It would have been pointless to tell Brynne the truth. There was only one person who knew the real truth and that was Maggie. Brynne wouldn’t believe him. She’d just think in addition to his paraplegia, he was also delusional. Just add it to the list of ailments.
Adam pulled his hand away from hers. He couldn’t help but think that this felt wrong. This twenty year old girl shouldn’t have to spend her free time nursing him back to health. It wasn’t fair to ask that of her. And Adam didn’t want to ever be a burden on her. He didn’t want her to have to run to the hospital when they admitted him for a fever. And if he ever got really sick, he couldn’t see this woman as the wife of decrepit cripple.
This experience opened his eyes and showed him that Brynne wasn’t right for him. Maybe Maggie wasn’t right either, but there were other women out there. Women who didn’t look like models, who hadn’t just graduated from high school, who weren’t already married. It was time to stop fucking around. And the first step was to confess.
“Brynne, I think you should know some things,” Adam began.
Brynne frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m not... I’m not exactly what you think I am.”
“Adam,” Brynne said tearfully. “What do you think you are?”
Oh god, this wasn’t going well. “That’s not what I mean,” he said quickly. “It’s just that... I’ve lied to you. A lot.”
“Lied to me?” Brynne repeated.
“Yeah.” Adam averted his eyes. He looked down at his paralyzed legs, covered by the sweatpants his mother had brought him. “The truth is, you’re not exactly the first girl I’ve been with since my accident. You’re not the second either. There have been, well... a lot. I didn’t want to tell you because... I didn’t want you to think I was like all those other guys. But the truth is that I am like those other guys. In fact, I’m probably worse.”
Brynne blinked her eyes, staring at him for a moment. “Why are you telling me all this now?”
Adam looked up and his eyes met hers. “Because I think we should end our relationship.”
He had made her cry now. There were big soggy tears rolling down her cheeks, ruining the make-up that she didn’t really need. He had said that he told her the truth, but what he said wasn’t the whole truth. The truth was that she was a very young, pretty girl and he didn’t want her to waste her life playing nursemaid to him.
“What if I said I don’t care?” Brynne said. “What if I said that I still love you, even if... even if you lied to me in the past...”
Goddamn it, Brynne! Why do you have to make this so hard? “But I don’t love you,” he said quietly.
“I see,” Brynne said. She stood up. “I don’t believe a word of what you’re saying. But I’ll go because I can see that’s what you want.”
Adam watched her leave the room, her long, shapely legs trembling as she walked. He didn’t want to break up with her, but it was what he had to do. As the door slammed closed behind her, he called out, “Brynne, wait!” But she didn’t hear him. For a moment, Adam wished his legs worked, just so he could run after her.
Maggie was pressured into attending her younger sister Elise’s wedding that Saturday. She had tried her best to get out of going to the ceremony, but her mother finally insisted. Maggie and Elise had been close back when they were young, back when Elise thought her big sister was a fashion queen and imitated almost everything she did. Since Maggie left for college, she and Elise had grown apart and now they almost never talked. It had in fact been their mother that informed Maggie of Elise’s engagement.
Elise had initially wanted her two sisters (Maggie and the oldest McConnelly girl Becky) to be in the wedding party, but Maggie flat out refused. She would not be a bridesmaid in one of those hideous pink dresses that Elise had picked out. Maggie told her mother that she would attend the ceremony, but that was it.
“Perhaps you could lose a little weight for the wedding,” Maggie’s mother suggested. “There are going to be a lot of men there... you could meet someone.”
Maggie winced at the idea. The last thing she wanted to think about right now was men. She still could hear Adam’s words echoing in her ears: I love you, Maggie. You know I do. I always have. But if you can’t do this for me, that’s the end of it. I’ll know that I can’t count on you for anything.
Adam was right, of course. Her coming over to the hospital and vouching for him was the least she could do. But that would mean he’d wind up seeing her. And once he laid eyes on her, his infatuation with her would be over.
Maggie agreed to stay at the wedding reception for at least a little while. She was seated at a table with her parents, Becky, and Becky’s husband. Becky had gotten married back when Maggie was still a senior in high school. In fact, Adam had been her date for the wedding. When her mother had informed her at the last minute that she could bring a date, Adam was the only person she could think of who could make this dull affair more interesting.
Adam, do you have plans this Saturday?
Just tell me, do you?
No, I don’t think so. Why? What’s up?
Well, my sister Becky is getting married and my mom said I could bring a date, so...
You want me to find you a date?
Ha ha, very funny, Adam. So can you make it?
For a date with you, Maggie? Yeah, I think I can make it.
Seriously, I don’t want you to cancel anything on my behalf.
Come on, I’m not that popular, Maggie.
Adam really was that popular though, at least with the ladies. He was cute and charming, and got every girl he wanted. But he made it clear that there was only one girl that he really wanted and that was Maggie. Which was the precise reason that she kept turning him down. She loved Adam, but she believed that once they began dating, she would just become another conquest to him and that would be the end of it. Once he got her, he would stop loving her.
So as much as she cared about him, as much as it hurt her to see him holding hands or making out with other girls, she always refused his advances. It was only now, so many years later, that she believed she had made a big mistake.
“Have you thought about looking for a new job, Maggie?” her mother asked now, snapping her out of her daydreaming.
“Why?” Maggie said innocently.
“I think you can do a little better than working as a cashier,” her mother said.
Maggie shrugged. “I don’t even have a college diploma.” She was immediately sorry she said this, because it caused her mother to launch into a new diatribe about how Maggie should get her college diploma. Still, it was better than being nagged about her weight.
Maggie’s grandmother came over to the table, grinning ear to ear. “I can’t believe I lived long enough to see my youngest granddaughter married,” she sighed. “Doesn’t Elise look beautiful, Maggie?”
Maggie smiled graciously. It kind of sounded like a rhetorical question (could she have said “no”?) but her grandmother looked like she wanted a response, so Maggie replied, “Oh, yes, she looks beautiful.”
“It’s your turn next, Maggie,” her grandmother reminded her. “You’re almost thirty, after all. Do you have any boyfriends?”
Yeah sure, they’re breaking down the doors. Maggie smiled again and shook her head.
“Who was that boyfriend you brought to Becky’s wedding?” her grandmother asked. “He was such a sweetheart.”
Maggie shrugged, “I don’t remember.” The last thing she wanted was to get her family talking about Adam.
“I remember that,” her father volunteered. He nudged Maggie. “I remember he used to come to the house almost every day looking for you. He was really crazy about Maggie. What was his name again? Alan? Alex?”
“Adam,” Maggie murmured.
“Oh, right!” her father exclaimed. “Adam... what a nice kid. Whatever happened to him?”
Maggie lowered her eyes, “I... I don’t really know. It’s been a long time.”
“Anyway, you’re going to be next, Maggie,” her grandmother repeated. “Mark my words. I can sense it.”
Maggie didn’t have the heart to tell her grandmother how wrong she was. It didn’t matter anyway—this was Elise’s big day and everyone was concentrating on the youngest McConnelly. Maggie was almost invisible.
Maggie’s older cousin Simon made it across the room to talk to her. Simon had also been close to Maggie when they were younger, but they hadn’t talked much in recent years. Maggie recalled hearing that Simon’s wife had a son a couple of years ago and she hadn’t bothered sending them a gift.
“Hey, remember me?” Simon said to her.
Maggie tried to smile. “Sorry I haven’t kept in touch...”
Simon waved his hand in dismissal. “You look really bored, Maggie,” he observed.
“I guess.” She shrugged. “I don’t find weddings very much fun.”
“But this is Elise’s wedding,” Simon pointed out. “She’s your little sister.
Maggie shrugged again.
“Okay, that does it,” Simon said. “You’re going to get up and dance with me.”
“No, thank you,” Maggie mumbled.
“Hey, did I ask?” Simon smiled at her. “Come on, Mags, get your ass off the chair!”
It was a little bit awkward dancing with Simon, considering that he was about eighty pounds overweight too. Maggie hadn’t danced with anyone in the longest time, definitely not since she had passed 200 pounds. She felt very clumsy in her new frame and she was having trouble keeping time with the music.
Maggie had danced with Adam during Becky’s wedding. She had to admit, Adam was a fantastic dancer. She knew he had never taken a dance class in his life (typical 17-year-old guy, wouldn’t have been caught dead doing something like that) and he didn’t really ever want to dance, but once he got going, he was really good. She couldn’t help but be a little bit impressed.
Fourteen year old Elise had begged for a turn on the dance floor with Adam and he had sweetly obliged, but when a slow song came on, he came back to their table to get Maggie. Maggie, will you do me the honor?
Okay, she had agreed, but no funny business.
He had held her in his arms, close to his body. He stared into her eyes and she found herself staring back. Her mouth became dry. It’s a beautiful wedding, she had said awkwardly.
Ours will be better, he had said. He saw the look on her face and smiled, Just kidding, Maggie. Lighten up.
Maggie had gripped his shoulders harder, clinging to him as they had nearly stopped moving to the music. It felt good being in Adam’s arms and she knew he was in heaven being so close to her. All she had to do was lean forward and kiss him. She knew it was what he wanted more than anything else in the world.
But she didn’t do it.
“Maggie?” Simon was frowning at her. “Maggie, what’s wrong?”
“Huh?” Maggie shook her head and looked up at him. Her vision was blurry.
“Maggie, you’re crying.”
Maggie touched her face and felt the dampness on her cheeks. She was crying. For some reason, everything about this wedding reminded her of Adam and how she had blown it with him. Not just the other day, but eleven years ago. When they first told Adam that he was going to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, she should have been there for him. She should have tried to help him realize he wasn’t any less of a man. At the very least, she should have told him that she loved him.
But instead, she had run away. It was the easiest thing to do at the time. It was easier to never see Adam again than to face that one difficult moment of seeing him for the first time. It seemed that way at the time, in any case.
And now she had a second chance. She had a chance to help him once again after all these years. And once again, she had said no.
Well, that was going to change.
Tomorrow, she was going over to the hospital and she was going to get Adam free. She was going to tell the truth, which is what she should have done a long time ago. Maybe it would mean Adam would stop loving her, but maybe that would be for the best. Maybe once he saw her like this, he’d be able to get on with his life once and for all.
To be continued...