The fault in our stars (Chapter 15)
A few days later, at Gus’s house, his parents and my parents and Gus and me all squeezed around the dining room table, eating stuffed peppers on a tablecloth that had, according to Gus’s dad, last seen use in the previous century.
My dad: “Emily, this risotto…”
My mom: “It’s just delicious.”
Gus’s mom: “Oh, thanks. I’d be happy to give you the recipe.”
Gus, swallowing a bite: “You know, the primary taste I’m getting is not-Oranjee.”
Me: “Good observation, Gus. This food, while delicious, does not taste like Oranjee.”
My mom: “Hazel.”
Gus: “It tastes like…”
Gus: “Yes, precisely. It tastes like food, excellently prepared. But it does not taste, how do I put this delicately…?”
Me: “It does not taste like God Himself cooked heaven into a series of five dishes which were then served to you accompanied by several luminous balls of fermented, bubbly plasma while actual and literal flower petals floated down all around your canal-side dinner table.”
Gus: “Nicely phrased.”
Gus’s father: “Our children are weird.”
My dad: “Nicely phrased.”
A week after our dinner, Gus ended up in the ER with chest pain, and they admitted him overnight, so I drove over to Memorial the next morning and visited him on the fourth floor. I hadn’t been to Memorial since visiting Isaac. It didn’t have any of the cloyingly bright primary color–painted walls or the framed paintings of dogs driving cars that one found at Children’s, but the absolute sterility of the place made me nostalgic for the happy-kid bullshit at Children’s. Memorial was so functional. It was a storage facility. A prematorium.
When the elevator doors opened on the fourth floor, I saw Gus’s mom pacing in the waiting room, talking on a cell phone. She hung up quickly, then hugged me and offered to take my cart.
“I’m okay,” I said. “How’s Gus?”
“He had a tough night, Hazel,” she said. “His heart is working too hard. He needs to scale back on activity. Wheelchairs from here on out. They’re putting him on some new medicine that should be better for the pain. His sisters just drove in.”
“Okay,” I said. “Can I see him?”
She put her arm around me and squeezed my shoulder. It felt weird. “You know we love you, Hazel, but right now we just need to be a family. Gus agrees with that. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
“I’ll tell him you visited.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m just gonna read here for a while, I think.”
She went down the hall, back to where he was. I understood, but I still missed him, still thought maybe I was missing my last chance to see him, to say good-bye or whatever. The waiting room was all brown carpet and brown overstuffed cloth chairs. I sat in a love seat for a while, my oxygen cart tucked by my feet. I’d worn my Chuck Taylors and my Ceci n’est pas une pipe shirt, the exact outfit I’d been wearing two weeks before on the Late Afternoon of the Venn Diagram, and he wouldn’t see it. I started scrolling through the pictures on my phone, a backward flip-book of the last few months, beginning with him and Isaac outside of Monica’s house and ending with the first picture I’d taken of him, on the drive to Funky Bones. It seemed like forever ago, like we’d had this brief but still infinite forever. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.
* * *
Two weeks later, I wheeled Gus across the art park toward Funky Bones with one entire bottle of very expensive champagne and my oxygen tank in his lap. The champagne had been donated by one of Gus’s doctors—Gus being the kind of person who inspires doctors to give their best bottles of champagne to children. We sat, Gus in his chair and me on the damp grass, as near to Funky Bones as we could get him in the chair. I pointed at the little kids goading each other to jump from rib cage to shoulder and Gus answered just loud enough for me to hear over the din, “Last time, I imagined myself as the kid. This time, the skeleton.”
We drank from paper Winnie-the-Pooh cups.