Caterina Shaw stood beside her best friend, listening to the scrape and shuffle of feet echoing in the almost empty auditorium. Too much noise and activity. More than usual.
“How many reporters are there?” she asked Elizabeth, nervous worry drying her throat.
Elizabeth laid a sympathetic hand on hers and squeezed gently. “Not many more than last time.”
Last time had been nearly a year earlier and for a totally different reason. The head of the symphony had asked Caterina to be one of the musicians introduced to the press as they announced that year’s schedule. The questions had been mostly about the symphony, its funding and schedule, and not about her.
Today it was all about her, something which Caterina hated. She might be a celebrated cellist, possibly one of the most well-known in the country, but she disliked celebrity.
The tap-tap-tap came against the conductor’s podium, much like it would to begin a concert. A familiar sound and one which brought her a moment of peace as she envisioned placing her bow against the strings and preparing for that first burst of joyous music.
But what followed was anything but peaceful.
A gush of noise came as various reporters jockeyed for her attention. Useless since she couldn’t see them thanks to the blindness caused by the tumor. Which was why her best friend was by her side — to select the reporters and offer moral support.
She felt the pull on her hand as Elizabeth moved, probably to single out one of the reporters as soon after, his question peppered the air.
“Ms. Shaw. We understand tonight is your farewell concert. Can you confirm that?”
Elizabeth’s hand tightened on hers, anger vibrating there, but Caterina smoothed her fingers across her friend’s hand. “I think rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I am just taking some time off for medical treatments,” she replied smoothly, hiding her own fears that the reporter’s question hadn’t been far from the reality of her condition.
A murmur of voices followed, but then another emerged brightly from the indistinct sounds.
“The treatment you mentioned is rather radical, isn’t it? Can you give us some more information on it?”
Caterina reached up and fumbled for a moment before gripping the edge of the conductor’s podium. “I will be undergoing a new gene therapy with Wardwell Laboratories. They are a leader in this field and I am quite confident – “
“But this is an experimental treatment, correct? Isn’t it true the FDA hasn’t sanctioned Wardwell to perform human trials yet?”
A different voice was asking the question, but the pack in front of her must have been of one mind as the chatter which followed was alike and in agreement.
“The FDA has approved my participation in the trials,” she advised. Because of her terminal state, compassionate leave for the radical gene therapy had been granted after months of paperwork.
“What do you hope to accomplish with the treatment, Ms. Shaw?”
Caterina fought back her annoyance at the question, thinking it fairly obvious. But just in case it wasn’t . . .
“I hope to return to this stage and play for you. Music is my life and I would do anything to keep that joy alive in my soul.”
More murmurs followed her answer and then another reporter asked, “What about your family? How do they feel about the risk you intend to take?”
Her family? Caterina thought. The mother she had loved with all her heart was long gone. Her father had never really cared what she did. Her music had been her life, precluding any real involvement with a man. In reality, other than her best friend Elizabeth, she had no one and yet . . .
“I hope that someday I will have a family. Be able to marry and have children. Pass on to them my passion for music the way my mother passed it on to me.”
The words trailed off at the end as emotion nearly choked her as she finally faced both her fears and the dreams she had not dared voice before now. Summoning inner strength, she drew a deep breath and spoke past the tightening in her throat.
“I want to thank you for coming today and I hope to see you all again shortly.”
Despite her words, the reporters continued to spice the air with more questions but with Elizabeth’s gentle guiding, Caterina left the stage. In the space behind the concert hall, she walked with Elizabeth to the small dressing room where she could rest in preparation for tonight’s concert.
The one reporter had called it her farewell performance, but Caterina refused to think of it that way. She had already overcome so much to play her music. She hoped she would one day fulfill those dreams she had told the reporters. As long as she had hope, anything was possible.