Alice smiles when she sees me. "What, did they hassle you over the guitar?"
I toss what's left of my now room-temperature Starbucks into the waste basket. "Uh. No."
Though she's right about hospital security giving me a hard time, my guitar had nothing to do with it.
"What was it, then? Forty minutes to get here from the parking garage is kind of a long time."
I don't have the heart to tell her that her father—technically, our father—blacklisted me and I had to get Edward on the phone before security would let me in to see her.
"My sense of direction is shit."
She laughs. "You know, there are apps for that."
Before she can realize I'm lying, I change the subject. "Any word on when they'll let you out of here?"
"Ugh." She rolls her eyes. "Not soon enough. If I'm going to stay cooped up in here, I may as well go back on chemo."
"Uh, yeah. About your whole going-off-chemo thing–"
"Don't you start, too."
"I'm not starting anything. I just want to understand."
Her eyes narrow as she studies my face. "If you had to pick one thing—you know, your one true passion—what would it be?"
I don't even have to think about it. "Esme."
Alice smiles. "Really?"
"This surprises you?"
"A little. Edward's convinced you're still in love with Izzy,"
"Of course he is," I say with a snort. "You know, you'd think a United States Senator wouldn't be so insecure."
"Not if it was insecurity that compelled him to become one—but let's not change the subject. About you and Izzy–"
"I thought we were talking about you and chemo."
"We were, but now we're not."
"What if I still am?"
"I'm the one in the hospital bed," she says. "Humor me."
I can't argue with her logic. "Okay." I pull a chair up to her bed, laughing. "What would you like to know?"
"All of it."
"Visiting hours end at 8 p.m."
"That's ten hours from now, and I was with Izzy for seven years, so..."
She rolls her eyes. "Don't be difficult."
"I'm not. I just don't see why any of it matters. I'm happily married, and she's..." I shrug.
"Don't stop on my account."
"I'm not going to go there with you. He's your brother."
"He's your brother, too."
"Yes, but it's different."
She beckons me with her index finger; I lean forward, resting my arms on my lap.
"It's okay, you know," she says.
"That you don't like him."
"I don't know him," I say, laughing. "Kind of crazy, considering I lived with his ghost for so long. Ten years ago, I couldn't get Izzy to say his name out loud. Now he's all she talks about—at least, when she's not lecturing me on how I should give him a chance and start acting like he's my brother." I roll my eyes. "Because you know I've had so much time to adjust to all this–"
"Uh, excuse me?" Alice points to herself with her thumb. "Seventy-two hours. I win."
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that. It wasn't up to me."
"Oh, I know. I'm not sure why Edward thought I wouldn't be able to handle it. I mean..." She gestures to the hospital equipment next to her bed. "If finding out my father cheated is the worst thing I have to deal with this month, I'll count myself pretty fucking lucky."
"Right." I stare at the floor, trying to figure out how I can dig myself out of this one.
"I'm not usually this much of an asshole. It's just that my mom has always placed a high value on honesty, and when I found out she'd been lying to me my entire life..." I sigh. "...but even that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things..."
"Eh. There's always going to be someone who has it worse. It doesn't make what you're going through any less shitty."
"I suppose. Anyway, I don't have to like it; I just have to accept it."
"Words I live by. So William..." She points to my guitar. "Did you bring that here to tease me?"
Laughing, I pick it up and strum a few chords, remembering what she said on Christmas about liking songs that have her name in them. "You know I don't know any Debbie Gibson–"
She rolls her eyes. "Don't be a dick."
"–but I think you'll like this." I take a breath and start to sing:
"A screen door slams, Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays..."
Just as I start the last verse, the door opens. I look over my shoulder to find Izzy and Edward. He seems annoyed—maybe even constipated—but since neither possibility is of any concern to me, I ignore him and focus on Alice's smile.
"Can you do something for me?" she asks when I'm finished.
"I'd like you to play at my funeral."
"Now Alice," Edward says, moving toward her. "It doesn't have to–"
She holds up her hand to him, but keeps her eyes on me. "Please?"
"Yes," I say.
She leans back into her bed and turns to Edward. "I'm trusting you to make this happen."
"Whatever you want."
"Good. Well, now that we've gotten that out of the way, I think I want to play some Scrabble."
"Thunder Road" copyright 1975 by Bruce Springsteen