Amber wore a royal blue dress that night. The neckline shimmered, just a trace of glitter against a stark white bandage on her chest where her central line had been.
A delicate white hat covered the dark fuzz where her long hair had been. Her mother dabbed away tears. Her bear of a father looked like he might have to borrow the Kleenex. Her best friend hugged her around the shoulders like she had at countless softball games, sleepovers, and beach trips.
Amber's eyes gleamed. They were the darkest brown, the color of forgotten pecans, soil-dampened and almost black under a pile of autumn leaves.
Everyone knew her first black-tie event would likely be her last, but 15-year-old Amber smiled-- big and un-self-conscious. She never seemed to carry the weight of her sickness the way others did. She never seemed to hold back tears or question her lot.
That night, Amber was on her way to a dinner in nearby Charlotte, thrown for a friend she had never met-- an equally strong and cheerful girl, whose knee pain had become a battle for her life.
Twelve-year-old Hope Stout had osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that affects kids from ages 10 to 20.
Amber did not know her, but Hope had given Amber a gift. When representatives of the Make-A-Wish Foundation visited Hope and asked her what her wish was, she looked around her hospital room--at her ever-present family and her abundance of flowers and cards-- and asked, "how many children are waiting for wishes to be granted?"
The answer was 155, in her section of North Carolina. "Then, my wish is to raise money to grant all of their wishes," she said, at which point pens and jaws dropped all over the hospital, and the national media dropped in on Hope.
Her red hair and splash of freckles were all over Good Morning America. Hope joked that God had actually let her have two wishes by making her a star for just a little while.
Hope's wish raised $1 million for Make-A-Wish in just a couple months, culminating in a formal dinner and auction at the Charlotte Westin, for which Hope planned the theme (old Hollywood), the menu, and the entertainment (Rat-Pack-style crooners). Hope died less than a week before the big night.