Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Peter. He was a cherubic young man with rosy cheeks and an easy smile, but no smile of his was ever greater or more full of love than the one he saved for his mother and father. When Peter was in his ninth year, he grew very sick, and it concerned his parents very much because, you see, he was the dearest thing in their lives. It was his broad, loving smile that set warmth and joy in their hearts.
But Peter was in bed with a fever for many weeks and no matter how often he told his mother that he would be all right, she would still break down into tears just outside of his bedroom, not realizing he could hear her sadness. Because he was so young, he didn't understand fully that his mothers tears came not from something bad he'd done, but because she was grief-stricken by the idea that she would lose her precious little boy. It always seemed to get worse after the doctor would come to pay a visit.
"Peter, can you open your mouth wide?" he would ask, peering deep into his throat before stuffing a thermometer inside.
"Take deep breaths now, Peter," he would say as he listened to Peter's breathing. Peter would take as many deep breaths as he could before bursting out into a deep, moist cough.
"Just relax now, Peter," he would say as he felt the glands in Peter's neck and stomach with rough but gentle fingers.
Whenever he finished his examination, he would always tousle young Peter's hair and laugh, hiding a grim smile on his face.
Peter would stare longingly out the window while the doctor offered his report to Peter's parents. Outside Peter's window was the swing his father built for him on the tree in the yard. Perhaps the most fun he'd ever had in his life that he could remember was the day his father put the swing up. It was a cool, clear autumn a year past. The leaves on the tree had mostly dropped to the ground and Peter busily raked them into one giant pile while his father strung up the seat made of a scrap of discarded oak onto a sturdy branch. Anyone within a mile could hear little but their laughter for hours. Peter's father would push him higher and higher until Peter was high enough to jump headlong into the pile of leaves, scattering them back over the yard. With the help of his father, Peter would rake the leaves back up as fast as he could, trying hard to get in as many flights as possible before the sun fell and he'd be sent to bed.
Now, though, it was winter and the tree was bare-limbed and cold, dusted with snow.
Peter could not hear what the doctor told his mother, but he knew things must be bad from his concerned murmur. What told him the most, however, was the sharp, stifled cry his mother let out after the doctor finished his prognosis.
It was then that young Peter decided that he would work hard to get better and to smile his great, big, loving smile for his mother as much as he could.
But those weeks were short, and on Monday the seventeenth, Peter went to sleep for the last time.
His mother had kissed him on the forehead and his father had read him a story before he fell asleep that night, and he had one final, fevered dream eternal.
"What would you like, Peter?" A voice asked him.
"I'd like to play," Peter said. "I've been in bed a long time and I miss playing so much."
"Then you shall play," the voice said and the blackness gave way to a playground the size and like such as Peter had never seen. And feeling fit and eager to play, Peter raced about, spinning on the merry-go-round, careening down the slide, swinging on the swings, and clambering up and down the jungle gyms. But soon he became tired, playing by himself was quite exhausting, but it quickly grew lonesome.
As he thought this, he turned to see a young boy, about his age and dressed in pajamas, staring at the park, eager to play. So long had it been that Peter had had a playmate of any kind that he smiled and went over to the boy as quickly as his legs could carry him. Peter put his arm around the boy and shook his hand all at the same time. "I'm Peter. Isn't this park great? What's your name?"
And that was it. They formed the sort of fast friendship that only children are capable of. For what felt like hours they played and laughed. The laughed and played almost as hard as Peter and his father on that autumn day in the past. The only difference was that this was missing the blanket of warmth and care that only a loving parent can provide. Their fun was quickly cut short, though, when a voice called John away. "It's time to move on," the voice said.
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