Amanda ran out to the mailbox just like she had been doing everyday for the last month. She wrenched the metal door open and froze. It was here! She snatched the thick white envelope with an Illinois return address. Ignoring the rest of the mail, she sprinted back inside.
“Mom! It came!” Amanda slid into the kitchen, grabbed the scissors from the knife box and jumped onto one of the kitchen stools. “Mom! It’s here!” she screamed.
Fighting the urge to rip the envelope open in less than a second, Amanda carefully slipped the scissors under the flap and gently sliced open the top of the envelope.
Her mom came shuffling into the kitchen. “Honey, be quiet. Your dad is having one of his bad days again. He’s asleep upstairs.”
“Oh.” Amanda tried to act and look concerned, but she was too excited, so instead she whispered, “Look! It finally came!”
“Good! Open it.” Her mom started acting excited, like she should be.
Amanda set the scissors down and pulled out a big stack of folded papers. Her eyes flew across the first page. “‘Congratulations.’ Mom! I got in!” Amanda jumped off the stool and started waving her hands in the air. “I am going to Chicago!” She started dancing, the papers flapping like a victory flag.
“Let me see,” her mom said. She took the papers and skimmed over the words. “Good for you, Amanda,” she said. She stuck her arms out and Amanda stepped in for a hug.
“Can I go tell Dad?”
“Don’t wake him. But if he’s up, sure.”
Amanda raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time. She slowed down when she reached her parents room at the end of the hall. “Dad?” she whispered as she pushed open the door.
“I’m up,” her dad said from the king sized bed. “I couldn’t sleep with all the ruckus going on downstairs. Congratulations. I knew you’d get in.”
Amanda ran over to the bed and sat down. “I’m so excited, Dad.”
“This will be a great opportunity. I’m so proud of you.”
“I got in, Vicky!” Amanda was sitting on the front porch, talking on her cell phone with her best friend since kindergarten. “It says, ‘Congratulations! You’ve been accepted for the Chicago Youth Symphony Summer Program.’ I fly out in a month, right after school gets out! I’ll be there all summer!”
“All summer? I won’t see you at all?”
“Well, I’ll be back about two weeks before school starts. We’ll just have to party it up a lot then.”
“I guess.” There was a pause. “But, really, I am way excited for you. It’ll be so cool.”
“Thanks, Vicky. I’m so excited. They only pick about forty kids and, like, over a hundred audition.” Amanda was holding the information papers in her hand, glancing through all the things she needed to know.
“I’m really excited for you. But don’t have too much fun on this awesome adventure without me.”
Amanda was practicing her flute a few days later when her mom knocked on her door.
“Amanda, can you come downstairs?”
“Mom, I’m practicing.” Amanda whined a bit. She really needed to practice. She wanted to be one of the best in the symphony this summer.
“Amanda, this is important. Come downstairs.” Her mom’s voice had that no-argument tone, so Amanda set down her flute and followed her mom downstairs.
They walked into the family room and Amanda was surprised to see her Aunt Lindsey there. Lindsey was her dad’s sister and the only relative who lives somewhat close to them. But even that was a pretty long drive.
Her dad was sitting on the couch with a blanket over him. Amanda didn’t think he looked so good. She went over and sat by him.
Her mom sighed. “Amanda, we went to the doctor today…” Amanda nodded. Her dad had been not feeling well for a while and she knew he was going to the doctor today. She waited for her mom to continue. “And…” Amanda looked over at her mom. She had her mouth over her hand and was silently crying. Amanda got scared. Her mom was usually really tough; nothing made her cry.
Aunt Lindsey leaned forward. “Your dad has cancer, Amanda.”
Amanda stared at her dad. Her heart was pounding and her head felt heavy. “What? No. You just…You’re…You can’t…” She didn’t know what she was trying to say, she just knew it couldn’t be true.
He nodded. “It started in my leg. I should’ve gone in ages ago, but I thought I’d be fine. It’s spread, though.”
Amanda heard her mom making a weird coughing sound. She saw Lindsey go over to comfort her out of the corner of her eye. But she just continued to stare at her dad. “Well, you’ll get better, right? They can cure it, right? You’ll be fine.” This couldn’t be happening. Not to her.
Her dad was shaking his head. “It’s in my kidneys,” he said. “All through my leg, in my kidneys, and it’s still spreading. They think it got into my blood stream.”
“They can’t…fix it?”
Her dad looked at her, made eye contact. “No, Amanda. They can’t. It’s too late.” He paused and put his hand on top of hers. She looked at their hands, his big and strong; her’s small and calloused from playing the flute. “They’re giving me to the end of August to live.”
Amanda knew what suffocating felt like now. She felt like someone was stuffing a black pillow against her face. Black because things seemed to be closing in on her. She shook her head and realized there were tears in her eyes. “You…it’s too late?”
Her dad nodded again and Amanda knew she had to get out. If she stayed in this room any longer, the pillow would smother her. She lurched up from the couch and bolted out the back door.
“Amanda!” she heard her mom yell. It was followed by her Aunt Lindsey’s calming voice saying something about letting Amanda be alone for a while. Amanda didn’t hear it all and she didn’t care and she didn’t stop running until she thought she would collapse.
“Congratulations! You’ve been accepted for the Chicago Youth Symphony Summer Program.” Amanda was sitting on her bed, staring at the acceptance letter and information papers. The dates seemed to scream at her. “June 20th – August 16th.” She thought of her dad’s words, “They’re giving me until the end of August to live.” She jumped a bit as a tear splatted onto her hand. She set the papers aside so they wouldn’t get ruined, then she flopped face-down onto her bed. She let the tears soak into the pillow as she hit her fist against the mattress over and over, trying to pound out the frustration, anger, and sadness that she felt.
Neither her parents or Aunt Lindsey had said anything to her about this, but Amanda knew. She knew she couldn’t go to Chicago anymore. She knew that she had to call the Youth Symphony people and tell them no. She knew that all her hard work – all her hours of practicing and lessons just to make one simple audition tape – were for nothing. Because how could she fly off to Chicago, and be there for months, when her dad was sitting here, dying. She couldn’t.
Amanda sighed, wiped her eyes, and dialed the number on the information sheets. “Hi, my name is Amanda Rogers. I’m calling to let you know that…” She pushed back a sob. “I won’t be able to participate in the Youth Symphony this summer…”
Amanda looked at the calendar. August 17th. She would have arrived home the night before. She would have been doing something with Vicky today, like going out for smoothies, and telling her all about Chicago. She shook her head and wiped away a tear. It had been a very different summer than she had expected. She slipped her feet into her black flats and slowly walked down the stairs.
Amanda stood in front of the coffin, thanking all the somber people for coming. It was a little consoling to see all the people who had cared about her dad; he had been a great man. Vicky was seated near the back, sending Amanda small, sad smiles every few minutes.
Later that day, Amanda stood next to the gaping hole. She let tears smear down her cheeks as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Amanda reached for her mom’s hand. It was real now; her dad was gone.
Amanda thought of her dad that night while lying in bed. She hugged her old teddy bear as tight as she could. Her dad had given her the bear for her sixth birthday. “I miss you dad.” Amanda whispered. She looked over at the calendar again. The sixteenth was circled in bright purple marker. She had done that when she first saw the acceptance letter from Chicago. She thought of all the things she would have done in that big city. It would have been so exciting and she would have learned so much. But, looking back, she knew she had made the right decision. A summer with her dad was worth a lot more than a summer playing the flute.
Her dad’s last words to her were the last thing she thought of before finally slipping into sleep.
“Thank you Amanda. I’m glad you stayed. I know how much that program meant to you. It means a lot to me to know that you gave up your dream to be with me. Keep practicing. I know you’ll be great.”