The fault in our stars (Chapter 16)
A typical day with late-stage Gus:
I went over to his house about noon, after he had eaten and puked up breakfast. He met me at the door in his wheelchair, no longer the muscular, gorgeous boy who stared at me at Support Group, but still half smiling, still smoking his unlit cigarette, his blue eyes bright and alive.
We ate lunch with his parents at the dining room table. Peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and last night’s asparagus. Gus didn’t eat. I asked how he was feeling.
“Grand,” he said. “And you?”
“Good. What’d you do last night?”
“I slept quite a lot. I want to write you a sequel, Hazel Grace, but I’m just so damned tired all the time.”
“You can just tell it to me,” I said.
“Well, I stand by my pre–Van Houten analysis of the Dutch Tulip Man. Not a con man, but not as rich as he was letting on.”
“And what about Anna’s mom?”
“Haven’t settled on an opinion there. Patience, Grasshopper.” Augustus smiled. His parents were quiet, watching him, never looking away, like they just wanted to enjoy The Gus Waters Show while it was still in town. “Sometimes I dream that I’m writing a memoir. A memoir would be just the thing to keep me in the hearts and memories of my adoring public.”
“Why do you need an adoring public when you’ve got me?” I asked.
“Hazel Grace, when you’re as charming and physically attractive as myself, it’s easy enough to win over people you meet. But getting strangers to love you… now, that’s the trick.”
I rolled my eyes.
After lunch, we went outside to the backyard. He was still well enough to push his own wheelchair, pulling miniature wheelies to get the front wheels over the bump in the doorway. Still athletic, in spite of it all, blessed with balance and quick reflexes that even the abundant narcotics could not fully mask.
His parents stayed inside, but when I glanced back into the dining room, they were always watching us.
We sat out there in silence for a minute and then Gus said, “I wish we had that swing set sometimes.”
“The one from my backyard?”
“Yeah. My nostalgia is so extreme that I am capable of missing a swing my butt never actually touched.”
“Nostalgia is a side effect of cancer,” I told him.
“Nah, nostalgia is a side effect of dying,” he answered. Above us, the wind blew and the branching shadows rearranged themselves on our skin. Gus squeezed my hand. “It is a good life, Hazel Grace.”
We went inside when he needed meds, which were pressed into him along with liquid nutrition through his G-tube, a bit of plastic that disappeared into his belly. He was quiet for a while, zoned out. His mom wanted him to take a nap, but he kept shaking his head no when she suggested it, so we just let him sit there half asleep in the chair for a while.
His parents watched an old video of Gus with his sisters—they were probably my age and Gus was about five. They were playing basketball in the driveway of a different house, and even though Gus was tiny, he could dribble like he’d been born doing it, running circles around his sisters as they laughed. It was the first time I’d even seen him play basketball. “He was good,” I said.
“Should’ve seen him in high school,” his dad said. “Started varsity as a freshman.”
Gus mumbled, “Can I go downstairs?”
His mom and dad wheeled the chair downstairs with Gus still in it, bouncing down crazily in a way that would have been dangerous if danger retained its relevance, and then they left us alone. He got into bed and we lay there together under the covers, me on my side and Gus on his back, my head on his bony shoulder, his heat radiating through his polo shirt and into my skin, my feet tangled with his real foot, my hand on his cheek.
When I got his face nose-touchingly close so that I could only see his eyes, I couldn’t tell he was sick. We kissed for a while and then lay together listening to The Hectic Glow’s eponymous album, and eventually we fell asleep like that, a quantum entanglement of tubes and bodies.
We woke up later and arranged an armada of pillows so that we could sit comfortably against the edge of the bed and played Counterinsurgence 2: The Price of Dawn. I sucked at it, of course, but my sucking was useful to him: It made it easier for him to die beautifully, to jump in front of a sniper’s bullet and sacrifice himself for me, or else to kill a sentry who was just about to shoot me. How he reveled in saving me. He shouted, “You will not kill my girlfriend today, International Terrorist of Ambiguous Nationality!”
It crossed my mind to fake a choking incident or something so that he might give me the Heimlich. Maybe then he could rid himself of this fear that his life had been lived and lost for no greater good. But then I imagined him being physically unable to Heimlich, and me having to reveal that it was all a ruse, and the ensuing mutual humiliation.
It’s hard as hell to hold on to your dignity when the risen sun is too bright in your losing eyes, and that’s what I was thinking about as we hunted for bad guys through the ruins of a city that didn’t exist.
Finally, his dad came down and dragged Gus back upstairs, and in the entryway, beneath an Encouragement telling me that Friends Are Forever, I knelt to kiss him good night. I went home and ate dinner with my parents, leaving Gus to eat (and puke up) his own dinner.
After some TV, I went to sleep.
I woke up.
Around noon, I went over there again.