Cindy looked at the clock above the door of the playground building. The hour had gone so fast she couldn’t believe it was nearly one o’clock.
She lifted her tennis racket and tossed the ball for her last serve. Donna was ready with a fast cross-court return that caught Cindy unprepared.
“I win!” Donna called. “I beat you for once!”
Cindy smiled as she wiped the back of her hand across her damp face. Then she began picking up the tennis balls.
“Let’s have another game,” Donna invited. “That last one was really an accident. You could easily win this time.”
“I can’t,” Cindy replied. “There’s just time for me to run home and shower before I go to the hospital to help Mrs. Holt with the story and craft activities.”
“Oh, nuts!” Donna scoffed, pulling a face. “That’s some way to spend the summer! Two afternoons a week with sick kids.”
“Those children have to spend a long time in the hospital. They do get awfully lonely, and I promised,” Cindy began.
“Well, just this once I’d think you could play another game,” Donna insisted. “It’s not like you were really that important. You said yourself that you don’t do very much.”
Cindy had thought this a number of times. All she ever did was pass out paper and crayons or scissors or whatever supplies were needed. And she also helped the children with their wheelchairs and crutches.
“Maybe I wouldn’t be missed,” she said to herself. “Maybe I’ve been building up the importance of what I’m doing because I want to feel I’m helping someone.”
“Come on, Cindy, and serve,” Donna said impatiently.
Cindy rolled the ball across her racket a few times, but then she shook her head. “Donna, I can’t. I really did promise, and it wouldn’t be fair!”
Cindy knew that Donna thought she was being foolish, but she couldn’t help that—even if Donna found someone else to play with the rest of the summer.
Cindy hurried to shower and get ready to go to the hospital. She was afraid she would be late, so she ran most of the eight blocks from her home to the hospital.
Her legs ached as she hurried up the hospital steps and down the long corridor toward the room where the children were waiting. As she opened the door, Cindy paused a moment to catch her breath.
“Mrs. Holt hasn’t started the stories yet,” she said to herself. “So maybe I’m not as late as it seemed.”
“Cindy’s here!” Dennis called as he caught sight of her. Dennis was in a cast from his hips down, but he wouldn’t think of missing the stories.
The others turned too. “Cindy! Cindy!” they called. It was almost like a chorus.
Mrs. Holt smiled, but Cindy saw that something was wrong with the gray-haired woman who was usually laughing with the children.
“Don’t you feel well?” Cindy asked quietly.
Mrs. Holt shook her head. “I’ve been a bit dizzy all day. I didn’t know if I could wait until you came. But now that you’re here, I know everything will be all right.”
Cindy felt her face grow warm, remembering how tempted she had been when Donna coaxed her to stay and play another game of tennis.
“I don’t like to leave you, Cindy,” Mrs. Holt sighed. “But all the children love you so much that I can go home and not worry. It’s good to know I can depend on you. Since you’ll be alone today, maybe you could read some stories.”
A shiver of doubt ran through Cindy, but she nodded. “I—I’ll do my best.”
Reluctantly Cindy watched Mrs. Holt walk away. At the door the older woman turned back. “I hope I’ll feel better by Friday, but if not I’ll depend on you again.”
Cindy had never read stories to the children before. At first her voice sounded shaky and small to her, but gradually her confidence grew.
“You read good,” Dennis announced. “Good as anybody!”
Cindy laughed and patted the little boy’s arm. “That’s because you’re all my friends.”
The afternoon went quickly—almost too quickly.
“You’ll come back, won’t you?” Dennis asked as Cindy was leaving. “You said we were friends,” he added wistfully.
Cindy went back and gave him a hug. “We are friends. And I’ll come back—I promise.”
As Cindy left the hospital, she knew she would keep her promise—just as often as she was needed.