From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

The Key to Bethany’s Heart

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.

Helen Keller

“Come on in! The water’s great,” I assured Bethany. I wanted to reach out to my new foster sister, to let her know that she could trust us. We’d never let her down the way her mother had done.

Bethany shook her head, not budging from her seat on the shore. She scowled at the waves that rushed in from the sea. She seemed angry to be here with a strange family and a girl who was trying too hard to be her sister. She hadn’t asked for her mother to suddenly walk out of her life, leaving her in foster care. And she hadn’t asked to join my family on vacation.

My parents walked up to Bethany. She stiffened when Mom knelt and put her arm around her shoulders.

“I know it’s hard for you, Bethany. Please try to understand that we only want to love and help you.”

Tears filled Bethany’s eyes. She didn’t want our help. She wanted to go back to her own life. Yet, part of her knew that it wasn’t our fault that she had to be with us. She nodded and murmured “I know,” but I could tell she was hurting inside.

Bethany sat with her head down as Mom and Dad walked away. She picked up a small clamshell that had washed onto the shore and rubbed the smooth surface with her fingers. Once, a living creature had claimed it as home, but now it was as cold and empty as Bethany’s heart.

I stood up and watched a small wave come crashing in.

“What good does it do to sit here and miss all the fun?” I asked Bethany.

“I don’t exactly feel like having fun. My life isn’t perfect like yours, Sarah.”

“I’ve always thought that my life would be perfect if I only had a sister. I just want to be your best friend.”

When Bethany didn’t reply, I felt like walking away and having my own fun. It was taking a lot of patience to deal with her.

Instead, I sighed and said, “I know you’ve had a hard time. In hard times, you need a friend. I want to be that friend.”

Bethany looked at me. Something seemed to crack in her hard outer shell.

“Okay. I’ll give it a try,” she said. “Let’s go out for a swim.”

We waded into the clear blue water of the Mexican coast. It splashed around our waists. Suddenly, I felt a jab.

“Ouch! That little blue jellyfish just stung me!”

We glanced around the water and saw the tiny blue bubbles of jellyfish to our right.

“I’m getting out, and I’m not ever coming back in,” I said angrily.

Bethany took my arm. “Wait. You don’t get to come to the beach very often. I can help you watch for them. They float on top of the water, so they’re not that hard to see.”

I smiled at Bethany. “You’ve got a deal.”

We all want to be needed. Maybe what Bethany needed was someone to need her, to trust her. Maybe no one had ever done that before.

I was happy to be that someone. I was even happier that I had finally found the key to Bethany’s heart!

Karen Cogan

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