Elisabel stared at the computer screen, mesmerized by the sweet notes traveling through her headphones into her waiting ears. Professor Allinder swayed with the movement of her bow, unheeding of the thousands of eyes watching her in the auditorium and online. Elisabel’s fingers pressed against her desk, mimicking the notes––first finger D string, fourth finger D string, second finger A string; a trill––first-second-third finger, all on A––then third finger on D; dropping to the open G, a rich note that made Elisabel shiver. She’d played this same piece but certainly never with such grace.
Please let me be your student, Elisabel thought as she stared at Professor Allinder’s fluid movements. Three weeks and no response from Zenith. Was that normal? Probably. Gwen had said not to worry, but Elisabel’s mind conjured the worst––Zenith’s staff calling with the news that they had checked with Mr. Lumetta, her high school director, and he’d said she’d only been playing four years. She could practically see Professor Allinder’s marked look of disappointment.
Okay, yeah, she shouldn’t have said that she’d been playing for ten years on the application. It’d been stupid. But typing “four years” would have been a death sentence to her dream.
Was lying on a college application a federal crime?
It’s not that big of a deal, she told herself. Besides, it wasn’t like she wasn’t used to lying. She could pull off the lie even during the interviews and auditions. They’d have no reason to doubt her when she played with such beauty and finesse.
Yeah, yeah, whatever. She couldn’t take back the pixelated lie now.
She focused on Professor Allinder’s beautiful playing and forced all thoughts of failure to the back of her mind. Gwen would say she worried too much. Yeah, well, you should be worried, her mind said. She silently told it to shut up.
“Elisabel.” Dad’s voice echoed from the staircase.
What now? She slammed her laptop shut and sat at attention, waiting for Dad to emerge from the staircase.
Dad rushed toward her, holding an envelope in his hand. Her blood froze. Is that––?
“I’m so proud of you.”
The words thrummed through her, eliciting a visceral response. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“Here. Read it.”
He thrust the envelope toward her, and she took it. The glow in his eyes brought stinging tears, and she blinked them away. Sliding the letter from the envelope with shaking hands, she read the first line: It is with great pleasure that I inform you of your acceptance to Antipas University.
“You’re gonna be someone, Elisabel.” His smile sliced into her. “No worries about money, nothing like that. You’re going places.”
She set the letter down and tried to push the corners of her lips upward. She could sign her life away to Antipas. Could be the person he wanted her to be. Could have a financially stable, productive, unhappy life. Or she could cut herself off from her dad to pursue her passions.
His hand brushed her shoulder. The simple action shoved tears onto her cheeks. “Just don’t forget about your dad, okay?”
“Never,” she whispered.
She could’ve sworn she saw tears, but he blinked, and the sheen was gone. “Just tell me what you want, Elisabel. Anything, and I’ll give it to you.”
She stared at his craggy, smiling face. “What?”
“You deserve a celebration.”
He didn’t have the money. What was he doing, making a promise like that? “No, Dad. You don’t have to––”
“C’mon, Belle. Let me spoil you just this once.”
He’d called her Belle. She swallowed the lump in her throat.
“Surely you want something,” he said.
You won’t like what I want. Zenith, violin, Mom––all things she could never say. But his glowing eyes shoved words from her throat: “Take me to the symphony.”
His smile dissipated. “No.”
She’d ruined it. Ruined his mood. Your fault. “You used to go with Mom and me.”
Frown lines dug into his face, imbued with tension. “That was different.”
Mom was dead. Of course it was different now. “You said you’d give me anything. Well, that’s what I want.”
A muscle in his jaw throbbed. “Elisabel.”
“You shouldn’t make promises you’re not going to keep.”
The shadows played across his face, stark and bleak. You idiot. She shouldn’t have said anything. Should’ve basked in his pride, so rare and sweet. But no, she’d had to erupt on him.
His nostrils flaring, he stormed back toward the staircase. His feet thumped against each step, and the door to Riverbed Ceramics slammed. The impact sent shivers through her body.
Her lips pressed together, and her chest heaved up and down. She balled up the acceptance letter and hurled it across the room. She wasn’t going to stupid Antipas University, no matter what Dad said, no matter how proud he would be.
She didn’t need him to be proud of her. She’d have the acclamation of thousands of adoring fans, of Gwen, of Professor Allinder. One person’s regard didn’t matter.
Except it did.
She crumpled into a ball and wept.
By Cassandra Hamm