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"Are we ready?" Raina St. James asked. She looked expectantly at her two friends.
"I'm ready," Holly Harrison answered. More than ready, she thought. Anything to get herself out of the house and away from her parents' eagle eyes, especially her father's. His will was impossible to bend, his mind impossible to change. He treated her like she was twelve instead of sixteen, so yes, she was ready for Raina's project.
"I'm ready too," Kathleen McKensie said, knowing it was a lie. She wanted to say, I don't even want to be here, but she didn't have the guts. This summer project was totally Raina's idea, but because she'd let her two friends talk her into it, she had no one to blame but herself for agreeing to join them.
They climbed out of Raina's car and she locked the doors with the electronic key. "This is going to be a great summer," Raina said. "Trust me."
"Don't we always?" Holly said.
The three of them, friends since sixth grade, had just finished their sophomore year at Cummings High in Tampa, Florida, where they were practically inseparable. But it was Raina who led them--not in a bossy way, but by sheer force of personality and persuasion. Once Raina set her mind on something, it came to pass, and from the moment she'd started talking about Parker-Sloan General Hospital's summer volunteer program after the Christmas break, Kathleen had known she'd cave and join Raina and Holly as a volunteer. However, now that the day was really upon them, Kathleen was wishing she'd voiced her objections when she'd had the chance. For starters, being a volunteer would consume her entire summer. And then, of course, she had to consider her mother, whom she decided not to think about at the moment.
Kathleen followed Raina and Holly through the parking garage to the elevator. It was only eight on a Saturday morning, but already heat was starting to build. By noon, it would be in the high eighties. They should have been heading to the pool at Raina's townhome complex for some sun worship instead of to volunteer orientation at the hospital.
"What floor?" Holly asked once the elevator door slid open and they stepped inside.
Raina said, "Third."
Holly pushed the button and the elevator rose. "This place is the size of a small city. I'll never find my way around."
"Sure you will," Raina countered. "I'll help both of you." Raina's mother was head of nursing at Parker-Sloan, so Raina knew plenty about the layout of the giant hospital complex, which easily covered two city blocks. She was fascinated by the world of medicine and today she was starting as a teen volunteer, fulfilling a dream she'd had for years, and having her two best friends with her made it even more special.
"Gee, thanks," Kathleen said with an edge of sarcasm. Although Kathleen understood Raina's fascination, she was not attracted to medicine. No way. And she secretly thought that Raina wouldn't be either if she had a sick mother at home as Kathleen did. As for Holly, Kathleen knew she'd do anything to escape her strict parents. That fact, and the fact that Raina was dating Holly's brother, Hunter, made Holly more agreeable to Raina's wishes.
"What are friends for?" Raina said, flashing a perky smile. The elevator stopped and the girls stepped into a hallway. "The auditorium is this way," Raina said, pointing left.
As they rounded a corner, Kathleen saw a line of teens filing through open double wooden doors--mostly girls, but some boys too. Inside the doors, stadium-style seats with flip-up writing desks made a sharp downward descent. At the bottom were a desk and a blackboard that stretched across the wall. A man and woman were watching the group file in and waving them toward the front. "Don't be shy," the man called. "Come on down."
"Looks like we're not the only volunteers who signed up," Holly said over her shoulder.
"Told you so," Raina said. "This is one of the best places in the city to spend a summer. Plus, don't forget, if we make it through this program, we can sign up to be year-round volunteers and earn credits toward graduation."
"Which is better than another science class," Holly said.
"But no money," Kathleen added pointedly. She'd given up a part-time job in a clothing boutique because of the program.
"Hence the term 'volunteer,' " Raina said, not a bit apologetic about Kathleen's job loss.
"Well, I think it's going to be fun." Holly took a seat along with her friends.
"And so will you, Kathleen." Raina gave her friend a patronizing pat that almost made Kathleen get up and leave. She might have too, if the man standing at the front of the room hadn't started talking.
"Welcome, summer volunteers, to our Pink Angels program orientation. I'm Mark Powell, director of volunteers at Parker-Sloan, and this is Connie Vasquez, volunteer coordinator." He nodded at the slim young dark-haired woman standing next to him. Connie waved. "All of you have passed the preliminary part of our Angels program in that first set of paperwork you submitted in April. Today"--he paused for dramatic effect--"more paperwork." He grinned, and Connie held up several thick file folders while the audience groaned.
"But after we fill out the forms and go over some rules," Connie added, "we'll break into small groups and take a tour of the hospital and the various floors and departments where you'll be used as volunteers. We'll meet here afterward for free pizza."
The audience applauded.
"One of the things in your packet is a form that asks for your shirt sizes, because all of you will be issued special shirts that will instantly identify you as an Angel volunteer to our staff and personnel," Connie said.
"Read the sheet about our dress code carefully, because there's no wiggle room there," Mark added. "The term 'Pink Angels' came from the pink shirts that our volunteers started wearing in the 1970s." He held up a pale pink polo shirt. "Then somewhere along the way, boys asked to join our program--nursing is a noble profession," he inserted with a grin. "So we added navy blue shirts. The guys just didn't feel comfortable in pink."