Hope, Before: Chapter Four

Chorus was Hope's final class for the day. It only filled half a block so it was forty-five minutes long instead of an hour and a half. That would have been perfect if she didn't love it so much.

Music filled something inside Hope. Her voice carried melodies with grace and ease. She loved the feeling of freedom and power that came from opening her mouth and knowing that what came out was going to sound amazing. She put effort into everything else; it didn't come easy, she had to try incredibly hard to be good at science, math, history, and everything else. Singing came naturally. It was maybe the only thing that actually came naturally.

Honestly, it was what she wanted to pursue in her life more than anything else; however, becoming a doctor or a lawyer was a more strategic move. She knew that. That's why she only applied to Harvard, that's why she had to get in. She couldn't work this hard her whole life only to fail now. She loved to sing, but unless you got really, really lucky you couldn't make that into a career.

Maura Skarsgard got lucky. She was the lead singer of Hope's favorite band, Acid Rain. Her voice echoed through Hope's soul, bouncing around – ricocheting – in her chest like a second heartbeat.

Her songs were like poetry, filling space with starlight spun from gold. Hope lay in bed at night, earbuds tucked neatly in her ears, and stared into the darkness of her bedroom as Maura's voice wrapped around her like a warm blanket.

There were times when I felt truly alone

Lost in a cocoon I had made on my own

The hands of time were kind to me

But I got lost in a mirrored sea

Hope fell asleep every night to Acid Rain. Her dreams imbued with rhymes and poetry. When her father was away and nightmares plagued her every sleeping moment, Acid Rain washed away the darkness and fear and replaced it with light and elegance. She owed Maura Skarsgard so much. That's the problem with heroes, though. They come into your life through their work, their art, and change everything about the way you see the world. Sometimes, they even save your life. But you can never thank them. There is no way to repay the debt. The transaction is entirely one-sided with them giving you everything you need and you unable to give anything in return.

Hope felt distracted for the entire forty-five minutes she spent in Chorus that day. She didn't want to sing the songs her teacher picked for them; she wanted to sing Born to Thrive and Weary Bones, Crack and Groan. She wanted to let her voice go unfettered as she belted the final notes to Yearning Nightmares.

She couldn't understand the feeling inside her – the gnawing sensation that something was wrong. It burned away her passion, her joy for being in her favorite class, and left her restless. She was desperate for the comfort that Maura's voice brought her.

I lost my way in severed days

But through the storm I saw your face

After the final bell rang, Hope shoved her folder with all the sheet music she needed for Chorus back into her bag. She had cross country today but she didn't feel like going. She didn't know what was wrong with her. She never felt this way. Yes, Danielle said some crappy things about her but it shouldn't still be bothering her. Mallory was being evasive and weird but Mallory was always like that.

At her locker, she dumped her Health binder and Chorus folder and put her history textbook back inside. She had more homework than that, she knew it. She had to study for the physics test, write a paper on the Revolutionary War, and there was something else, she knew it. Oh right, she had to read almost one hundred pages from The Odyssey. That was going to take a while. She pulled the chunky book out from the upper shelf in her locker.

Hope hesitated. She'd never skipped cross country before. She'd never skipped anything before. However, she knew Mrs. Connelly would understand if she didn't go just this once. She would tell her she hadn't felt well. She would understand. Or she could tell her about the physics test on Friday. She definitely needed to study for that. Mrs. Connelly would absolutely understand.

She took the long way home, three miles instead of two. She didn't mind. Her back and shoulders ached under the weight of her textbooks but her legs longed to be stretched and used. That's why she ran cross country. She couldn't stand sitting still. Her foot was always tapping, her knee bouncing in midair. She ran for the same reason she sang – her body was strong, it needed to be in motion. It needed to be exercised and utilized. If she didn't sing, her lungs and voice felt worn. If she didn't run, her legs felt too restless and heavy.

As Christmas drew nearer, the temperature continued to nosedive daily. Hope shivered and walked faster to generate heat through exercise. She walked through neighborhoods she'd passed through her whole life. Every day, more and more decorations covered the houses and yards.

Her mom wasn't home when she got there. Her key stuck in the lock like it always did and she had to jiggle the handle to get it to come back out. She dropped her keys in the glass container on the stand by the door. Once in her bedroom, she dropped the bag on the floor and pulled out her physics textbook.

After a few hours, when her eyes were starting to slide closed and the sky outside had darkened to the point of the streetlights coming on, she heard a car in the driveway. It only took a few minutes before the door downstairs burst open.

"Hope," her mom screamed from the bottom of the stairs. Hope jumped up, terror eating away at her insides. What was wrong?

"What," she asked, dreading the answer.

"Get down here," her mom yelled again, this time from the kitchen. Hope took the stairs two at a time and slide against the table in her haste.

"What's wrong?" She asked, breathing heavily. Her mom was smiling, though, holding a huge envelope.

"It came," her mom said and walked up to her. She pulled Hope close and hugged her tight.

"What is that?" Hope asked. It couldn't be? Not yet, she applied early but it couldn't possibly be? Even if it was, what if they said 'no'? What would she do then? Harvard was the only college she applied to. If she didn't get in, if they didn't want her, she didn't have another plan.

"Open it," her mom said excitedly. She handed her the envelope and Hope hesitated before slipping her finger under the edge of the envelope and tore it open. She pulled out the papers and gasps. On the first page it said, "Dear Ms. Greene, I am delighted to inform you that the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid has voted to offer you a place at Harvard…" Hope didn't read anymore, she didn't have to.

"So?" Her mom asked, her blue eyes shining knowingly. "Did you get in?"

"I got in," Hope said and then they were both screaming and crying and hugging. This was everything Hope had been working toward her entire life. This was how she was going to succeed. This was how she was going to make it.

"We have to go out tonight," her mom said, grabbing her coat from the hook by the door. "Whatever restaurant you want, it's up to you. I can't wait until we tell your father; he's going to be so proud."

They were at the door, on their way to celebrate Hope's future, when they heard the knock at the door.

"Just a minute," Hope's mom said to the person on the other side. Then she turned back to Hope and hugged her again. "I'm so proud of you."

Then she let go and watched her mom open the door and her whole world fall apart.