The True Friend

“Will you play catch with me?” Krista asked, standing at the door to Joey’s bedroom. She was holding a softball and the glove Dad had bought her for her sixth birthday last month.

“Not right now,” ten-year-old Joey said, rolling off his bed and grabbing his mitt. “Duncan and the others are waiting for me to practice baseball with them at the diamond.”

“Okay, play with me after?” Krista said as she watched her big brother stuff his unruly hair into his baseball cap and run off.

“Maybe,” Joey shouted over his shoulder. “If I have the energy.

Krista sighed as she heard the door bang behind Joey, and went back to her room.

That night, Joey was indeed too tired to play with his kid sister, so when Krista came over with a hopeful look on her face and her new ball glove in her hands, Joey stuffed down his feelings of guilt and shook his head. “Maybe tomorrow.”

The next day, Krista came over as soon as school let out and they had both had their after-school snack. “Play catch with me?” she asked Joey, who shook his head as he wrestled on his tennis shoes.

“Sorry kid,” he said. “We have a big game on Friday, and we have to practice extra. I don’t have time to play with you right now.”

“Maybe tomorrow?” Krista said hopefully.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Joey said as he dashed off.

Krista sighed and went back to her room.

The next two days were a repeat of what had happened on  Monday and Tuesday. Krista’s ball glove continued to remain unused, except for one night when Dad took pity on her and played catch for twenty minutes after dinner before he had to go back to his office to work.

Then came Friday, the day of the big game. Joey and his friends were nervous, but excited. The game was a close one—their team would score a point, then the other team would even the score. Finally, it was the last inning. Joey was the catcher, the teams were tied, and the other team had runners on first and second base. All Joey’s team had to do was make sure none of them reached home base.

The pitcher threw. The batter connected, the ball sailed into the air, and the runners started rounding the bases. The outfielder caught the ball and heaved it toward Joey, who prepared to catch it just as the runner on the opposite team approached.

“Catch it Joey! Catch it!”

Joey lifted his mitt, the ball glanced it…and then bounced off at a ninety degree angle.

The runner slid into home and tagged the base with his foot.

“Safe!” the umpire called, blowing his whistle.

“No!” Joey’s teammates cried. They had lost the game, all because Joey had dropped the ball.

That weekend, no one called Joey to play catch. Or to play anything at all, for that matter. Joey moped around the house, his face so dark that even Krista didn’t dare approach him.

When school started again on Monday, Duncan and Joey’s other buddies appeared to be avoiding him. They went off to eat by themselves during lunch time, and Joey sat alone. After school, Joey heard the other kids inviting each other to their houses to play and do homework.

“Can I come too?”” Joey asked hopefully.

“Sorry, Joey,” Duncan said. “My mom’s car only fits four. That’s me, Aaron, Buddy, and Ethan. Maybe next time.”

Joey walked home, trying not to cry.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Mom said, lifting the phone receiver from her ear when she saw his face.

“No one wants to play with me,” Joey said, as he dragged himself upstairs.

“Oh honey,” Mom said, looking as if she wanted to go after him. But she had to finish her phone conversation first.

Joey went into his room and lay on the bed, not bothering to take his backpack off. Shortly, he felt a presence at his door.

“Go away, Krista,” he said. “I’m not feeling great today.”

Instead of going away, however, his little sister crept into the room and then gently lay on the bed next to Joey. She didn’t say anything, just watched him with her big brown eyes, and then she snuggled close and hugged his arm.

They stayed there, silent, for a minute. And then Joey let out a big sigh.

“We lost the game on Friday because of me, and now no one wants to play with me anymore,” Joey said.

“I do,” Krista said immediately. “I want to play with you.”

Joey sat up slowly and looked at his little sister. “What do you want to play?” he asked.

“Whatever you want to play,” Krista said hopefully.

“I think Duncan and the other guys are playing catch at his house.” Joey said with another sigh. “Without me.”

Krista’s eyes lighted up. She jumped off the bed and ran to her room, reappearing moments later with her softball and glove. “We can play catch too!” she said.

Joey looked at her, standing there with that hopeful look on her face, and then he grinned. “Yeah, why not?” he said. He grabbed his catcher’s mitt and strode to the door as Krista let out an excited squeal and ran downstairs to the backyard.

Joey and Krista played catch for hours. Krista wasn’t as fast as the other boys, and she dropped the ball a lot, but for some reason, Joey had to admit it was fun to play catch with her—just as fun as it was with the other boys, or even more so.

And when night fell and Mom called them in for dinner, Joey slung his arm around his little sister’s neck and tousled her hair with his other hand. “Let’s play again tomorrow, okay?” he said. “I’ll teach you how to throw faster.”

“Okay!” Krista grinned, and Joey smiled back. “I can’t wait!”