Some days it all piles up on her: the cruelty of classmates who yank chairs out from under her, the certainty that she's the only 13-year-old girl on earth who hasn't been asked out by a boy, the geography test for which she has to identify all 50 states, their capitals and all the squiggly rivers and mountain ranges in between from studying a map that she alone has never seen. She storms upstairs. Slams the door. "Why did you do this to me?" she screams at the ceiling. No! That can't be her. She's a Veeck. She collapses onto her bed, picturing all the kids who have it worse than she does, picturing the ones in Iraq with their limbs blown off, scalding out her self-pity and anger. Then she gets up and cranks up the music, dances and sings and weeps.
Days like that, the darkness sifts down and settles over Mike. He's not sure anymore when to crack a joke or sing a song about her blindness, when to bump into the front door or run into a tree and titter on one of their two-hour tandem bike rides. She might laugh. She might explode. She's the Dalai Lama one minute. The next she's the kid who insists there's a Santa Claus and a Tooth Fairy and a cure for retinitis pigmentosa right around the corner. She's a teenager.
It kills him to hear her upstairs sobbing. Kills him that it was his recessive gene that coupled with Libby's and wrought this. Kills him to have to tell her she can't try out for the basketball team or the cheerleading squad or ride her bike anymore. Kills him to kill off the child in her, the believer, even though he knows, for her good, he has to. Kills him because his whole life's about making and marketing magic, awakening the child asleep in us all. Kills him that he has to get up at six the next morning, board another plane and leave her for five days to fight her fight without him.
"It's the life we choose," he tells her as he lifts his suitcase.
"It's the life we choose," she echoes. "I know you're good and you've got to go show your tricks to the world."
"I'm strong like bull," he says.
"I'm strong like baby bull," she says.
Then her fingers search the air, trying to find his cheek, and she kisses him, and he turns for the door. Because worse than leaving is the helplessness he feels if he stays. He can do nothing here to save her, but if he climbs on that plane, if he launches another madcap marketing campaign, if he gives another speech that makes another 50 men laugh and cry and feel what it feels like to watch the lights go out, if he signs and sells another hundred copies of his new book, Fun Is Good, if he goes on three hours' sleep until he grows so surly that he has to crawl into the tub and take another three-hour bath, then maybe he can salt away enough money to make sure his daughter never knows a day of need, and maybe, just maybe, he can hand the Foundation Fighting Blindness or Charleston's Storm Eye Institute another fat check that'll help make a miracle appear beneath a microscope. It's the only shot he's got at relighting Rebecca's world: his father's torch.
And so he goes, harder than ever, but for a higher purpose--for her--cutting corners on each road trip to get back earlier, buying a stake in a private plane so he can fly home at any hour to catch her piano and dance recitals, so he can sit in the audience holding it all in, the pride and the panic, when she pirouettes across the stage: Does she know she's one step away from the edge? God, does she know?
And keeps telling himself that no matter how hard this is, no one could be better equipped for it. Because they've got Libby, the warrior. Because they've got Don Wardlow, the blind man Mike hired long before his daughter's diagnosis, who showed Rebecca during his six years as color man in the Saints' and the RiverDogs' radio booths that nothing's impossible. They've got laughter, they've got music--the piano and drums and guitars at home that Mike and Rebecca love to play--and there they go again, crooning that Temptations verse they love to croon: I've got sunshine on a cloudy day.