I woke early the next morning with sunlight streaming through the blinds. I sighed, disappointed that this all hadn't been a bad dream. But the white walls and uniform sheets didn't lie I was a prisoner here until further notice.

"Good morning, sunshine."

I nearly leapt out of the bed. "Nick!" I gasped, holding a hand over my rapidly-beating heart. "You scared me!"

My little brother pursed his lips apologetically from where he was lounging in the armchair, watching the TV. "Sorry," he told me. "I thought you knew I was here." He stood from the chair and walked to my bedside. It still astounded me how much Nick had changed over the past two years from a short, stocky twelve-year-old to a tall, handsome teen. But I was still glad many of my favorite traits hadn't changed: his readily-available comforting bear hugs, his confident sense of humor, and his preserved sentimentality. He and I had a special bond and it was one of the things I feared losing most.

"When did you get here?" I sat up in bed, leaning back against the pillows.

"About an hour ago. Dad brought me when he left to get some sleep. He says he'll be back later."

I nodded in agreement. "You all have lives. You shouldn't have to be cooped up here just because I was stupid enough to fall off a cheerleading mount."

Nick's face darkened, his brown eyes growing serious. "Dad says there might be a tumor in your throat." I could see his face contort with worry. I instantly remembered those long years after our Mom left when Nick would come into my bedroom in the middle of the night, tears streaming down his face, fearing he had done something wrong to make her leave.

I smiled at him brightly. "Nick, a tumor doesn't mean anything. It could be benign for all we know! In fact, I'm counting on it. I have U of M auditions in less than a week. I don't have time for tumors."

Nick nodded and tried to smile back. "So you've been practicing?" he asked.

I sighed and frowned. "Unfortunately, no. I'm terrified the nurses will clap a muzzle over my mouth if I even practice a scale. So I'm saving my practicing for when I get home."

"Yeah, that's probably the best idea," Nick agreed. "I mean, I'm used to hearing your arias and scales in the middle of the night, but I think you'd frighten a few patients if you tried that here."

I laughed. My brother was the best.

"Hello, hello!" chimed a voice from the doorway. Nicole grinned brightly as she sauntered in, her cheer uniform swinging against her hips. And following behind her was Josh. My heart swelled and a smile crept across my face.

"Did you miss me?" Nicole asked, tossing her short black curls behind her shoulder.

"I hardly had time to miss anything," I confessed. "I was sleeping for so long."

"Thanks, Mimi. Glad to know I'm appreciated." Nicole dramatically put her hand over her heart, but winked at me.

"Hey, Josh!" Nick exclaimed.

Josh embraced him in a playful guy-hug. "Hey, little guy!" Josh grinned at him, his Southern drawl creeping into every word. I laughed at his words. Nick had grown to be only half a foot shorter than my boyfriend. But Nick, starting quarterback for the middle-school football team, had looked up to Josh for a long time and I was glad Josh could be the role model Nick needed. I loved that my family liked Josh so much.

"Hi, honey," Josh said, finally coming over and kissing me on the cheek. I loved how he used such endearing words with me instead of just "babe", like most guys I had dated. "How are you feeling?"

"Same as yesterday," I answered evasively. I hadn't felt great yesterday and I didn't feel great today. "A little nervous about the biopsy."

"Don't worry. The doctor said they'd put you out for the procedure," Josh assured me with a smile. I tried to smile back, but just managed to nod. He didn't understand. I wasn't nervous about the procedure. I was nervous about what they might find.

"I just want to get out of here," I confessed. "I hate being here."

"Well, we'll be here every day to visit," Nicole promised. "And I know it's not much, but hopefully this will cheer you up a little bit." She dropped a shopping bag on my lap. "Every issue of Vogue for the past year in chronological order. Oh, and I packed you some yoga pants and tank tops. I figured you wouldn't want to rock the hospital gown for too long."

"Thank you," I said gratefully, self-conscious that Josh was seeing me so undone. "This gown is atrocious."

"I think you look beautiful, even with the gown," Josh said, leaning over to plant a kiss on my forehead.

Nick groaned. "Okay, seriously. I think I've witnessed enough of your public displays of affection to last me a while." He grabbed his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. "Can I get a ride with you guys to the middle school?"

"Sure thing," Josh said. He smiled at me apologetically. "Sorry for such a short visit, Mimi. We just wanted to stop by before school. I promise I'll try to come again later, okay?"

I nodded. "Okay."

"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?" Nick asked concernedly. "I could always skip school for today."

"I don't think that's such a good idea, Nick," Josh advised. "If any of the teachers tell Coach you weren't in school, he won't let you play. And we all know how tough your dad can be about grades, even if he does want his team to play well."

As much as I did want Nick to stay, I agreed. "Josh's right, Nick. You need to go to school. I'll see you later, okay?"

He looked reluctant, but finally nodded and hugged me goodbye. "I love you," he told me.

"Love you too," I replied.

"See you soon, Mimi," Nicole said with a grin. "And don't worry, I'll be sure to keep all of the girls away from this one while you're out of school." She nodded toward Josh.

"I don't think that will be a problem," Josh assured me, kissing me one last time before they left. "I'll text you, okay?"

"Don't get caught!" I warned him as they walked out the door.

"I never do," he grinned and winked at me as he left. And then they were gone, and I was once again alone.

"I'm gonna have you lay back, hon," the nurse told me kindly, patting the paper-covered gurney. Shaking, I pushed myself onto the hard mattress and laid down, the paper crinkling under my head as I stared up at the white ceiling with its harsh, bright lights. I wrung my hands, feeling sweat bead on my sweaty palms.

"Are you nervous?" she asked sympathetically as she organized the metal instruments on a nearby cart. "Don't be, sweetie. We'll sedate you and you won't feel a thing. You may experience a sore throat afterward, but nothing a little ice water or ice cream couldn't fix."

I nodded at her, but she hadn't made me feel any better. No one seemed to understand that I wasn't afraid of whatever procedures or biopsies or tests they wanted to do to me. I would go through all of it to just have a clean bill of health and only my U of M auditions to worry about.

"Okay, you're just going to feel a little poke here..." the nurse told me as I noticed a doctor walk into the room, pulling on a pair of latex gloves. Seeing him there in his white coat only made everything seem more real, and my heart sank. I couldn't help myself. Tears began to spring to my eyes as they drifted close and a blank sleep overtook me.

It was late afternoon, almost dinner time, when Dad and Lauren were both able to come down to the hospital to have a meeting with Dr. Clemens and me.

"Why can't I just talk to you alone?" I had asked the doctor when he came to check how I was feeling after my biopsy. "I'm almost legal, anyway. I feel like I have the maturity to hear whatever you need to say."

But he had just smiled at me, in a really uncomfortable way, and told me, "I would just rather you have your family with you. They always make things like this easier."

With Nicole and Josh in school and no one to talk to, I had spent most of the day on my phone or paging through the magazines Nicole had brought. But everything was just a blur. My hands were trembling with anxiety and I could barely keep my attention on anything for more than a split second.

"We're here," Lauren said breathlessly as she hurried into my hospital room, her hair a complete flurry from the wind outside. Dad and Nick followed closely behind. "Sorry it took us so long. I had to bribe another teacher to take over after-school tutoring for me and Nick had been put in detention for being late this morning…"

"Nick!" I exclaimed. "You can't come visit me if you're going to be getting detention!"

"Josh and Nicole wanted to stop at Coney Island for breakfast on the way to school! The temptation was just too real, okay?" Nick said without the slightest bit of remorse. I didn't blame him. The thought of diner-style blueberry pancakes and hot chocolate was enough to make my stomach growl after eating all the hospital food.

"Did the doctor say why he wanted to see us?" Lauren asked.

"He wouldn't," I shook my head. ", which is really getting frustrating! Can't you guys remind him that I'm almost eighteen years old and I'm not too much of a baby to hear what's going on with my own body?"

"I'm sure we can work something out," Dad comforted me, rubbing my shoulder. "In the meantime, his office is just down the hallway. We should get going so we can take you out for some lunch afterward. I heard that stomach growl." He winked at me knowingly.

As I teetered down the hallway, my legs stiff and sore and my concussion making everything seem fuzzy, Nick asked, "I get to come in too. Right, Dad?"

"I think it would be better for you to sit this one out, bud," Dad said, scruffing Nick's hair.

Nick looked obviously ticked off, but as usual, I tried to cheer my brother up. "Nick, it won't take long. And I'll let you choose where we go to eat afterward, okay?"

His eyes lit up, as they usually did when food was the topic of conversation. "Zorba's?" he asked hopefully, mentioning our favorite family diner.

"You got it." I grinned at him and we high-fived before Dad steered me toward Dr. Clemens' office.

Nick took a seat outside the door and pulled his phone out of his pocket. "I'll be waiting here for when you guys come out. Have fun, Miranda."

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, you know I will!"

Dr. Clemens' eyes lit up when we came into his office and he stood abruptly. "Come in, come in! Mr. Clark and Miss…" he shook Dad's hand and then looked at Lauren with a question in his eyes.

"Lauren Bower," my sister said while shaking his hand. "I'm Miranda's sister."

"Ah, yes!" Dr. Clemens turned his attention toward me. "And Miranda. It's nice to see you again."

"Long time no see," I joked, although the scent of his cologne was becoming more and more familiar each time we met.

"Yes," Dr. Clemens said, once again looking very uncomfortable as he had when we talked in my room. He busied himself by pulling up an extra chair for Lauren. "Please, sit. Would anyone like anything to drink? Coffee? Water?"

"What I would like," I said, sitting forward in my seat. ", is to know exactly how you're going to fix whatever is wrong with me."

Dr. Clemens took a long look at me before massaging his forehead with his hand. "Miranda…I don't think you understand just how serious your illness could be."

My heart began to beat faster. "What do you mean?"

"After taking the biopsy, we have come across some abnormalities."

I felt as if all my insides were sinking to the ground and my breath became shallow. "So it is a tumor."

Dr. Clemens nodded. "Yes, it's a tumor. Miranda, it's cancer."

I could hear Lauren gasp. Dad's hand immediately flew up to his mouth. But I just stared at Dr. Clemens.

"What kind of cancer?" I asked.

"Laryngeal. Stage Two."

I let out a shaky breath as Lauren began to cry beside me. But Dr. Clemens and I maintained eye contact. "How is it treated?"

"There are many different options," he explained. "Surgery is quite common in order to remove the mass—"

"No," I objected. "I'm not having surgery. I would go through fifty rounds of chemo rather than have you go in and take out part of my voice box so I'll never be able to sing again. I'd rather sing bald than not sing at all."

"At this stage, I don't believe chemotherapy is necessary. I'd rather you go through radiation which is highly evasive. In many cases, it is able to destroy the mass or reduce it to a size which is operable…"

"No surgery," I repeated. "I'll have the radiation. And if that doesn't work, I'll go through chemo. But you're not taking my voice away from me." Dr. Clemens stared at me again, but in the end he nodded understandingly. "Am I able to go through treatment here?"

"I wouldn't advise it," he replied. "While we do have an oncology center here, I primarily suggest our cancer patients transfer to the University of Michigan hospital when they are able."

"Ann Arbor!" I exclaimed. "That's almost two hours from here! How am I supposed to see my family?"

"Miranda," Dad said calmly, standing behind me and massaging my shoulders. "We'll make it work."

"How long would I be there?" I asked, questions suddenly racing through my mind. "Would I be able to finish school? This is my senior year! I can't just stop going to school now!"

"There is no specific time period I can give you," Dr. Clemens said reasonably. "There is no time limit on getting your health back to where it needs to be. As for school, we offer many programs for students within the health system and I'm sure your own school does as well."

I looked at him, my eyes wide and my mouth parted. "I just…I just don't know what to do."

Dr. Clemens reached over his desk to me, taking my hand in his. "I know. That's why we're all here to help you. But in the meantime, start getting your things together. I want you moved to Ann Arbor so we can begin treatment as soon as possible."

"Okay," I nodded breathlessly. "Okay."

I walked out of Dr. Clemens' office in a daze and came face to face with Nick. I looked at him, not able to bear the thought of telling him what was happening. But in that instant, he knew. His face crumbled in pain and he buried me in his embrace, holding on as if it were the last time. I hugged him back tightly, not knowing if it would be.