The 3:30 school bell rang. Matt dashed for the door, grabbed his coat from the hook, and jumped down the steps ahead of the other students. Once outside, he rounded the corner of the building. Pressing his palms against the wall, he inhaled deeply as though trying to disappear into the red bricks. His eyes searched for a possible hiding place, but there was none—no trees or bushes or anything—only the flat cement playground.
His heart pounded as he remembered Joe’s words from recess: “You just wait till school’s out. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Matt blinked back his tears and watched the others trooping out, yelling and shouting. Then he noticed Joe scanning the school yard.
How can I get away from him? Matt wondered. Cautiously he inched along the wall behind a screen of students, hoping he could make it to the back door without Joe spotting him.
When Matt finally reached the back corner, he scooted around it and went inside. With a sigh of relief, he ran to the front of the building and slipped into his own classroom. He stood behind the big plant near the wide window and watched where his tormentor went.
Joe was still asking questions of the students and looking around. But Matt could tell that no one knew where he had gone.
Matt heard the door open. Mrs. Scott came into the room and exclaimed, “Why, Matt! I thought you were in a hurry to get out of here. I’ve never seen anyone leave so quickly.” Then she noticed his white face. “Matt, are you sick?”
A tear slid down the boy’s cheek, and he quickly brushed it away and shook his head. “Joe’s after me. He says he’s going to beat me up. He’s out there now looking for me.”
Mrs. Scott stood with her hand on Matt’s shoulder and watched from the window. “Too bad about Joe,” she said.
“Why too bad for him? I’m the one who gets sick every morning because I’m afraid he’ll get me. Look! He thinks I got away. Maybe he’ll go home now,” Matt said, momentarily relieved. “But it’ll be the same all over again tomorrow.”
“Joe hasn’t much of a home to go to,” Mrs. Scott commented. “His mother died last year, and his father is out of a job. He has an older sister—and that’s all he has. He’s unhappy and can’t seem to concentrate on his schoolwork.”
“He’s mean, and he doesn’t like me,” Matt insisted.
“That’s what’s so sad about Joe. He really wants friends but doesn’t know how to get them,” Mrs. Scott said. “Why don’t you sit down here and read a little while until we’re sure Joe has gone. Then you can walk home without any trouble.”
Mrs. Scott continued to watch Joe from the window while Matt opened the book he had started during reading time. It was about Abraham Lincoln. His pounding heart settled down and his chin rested in the palm of his hand as his eyes scanned the pages. Suddenly something caught his attention. He reread a line several times, then exclaimed, “Mrs. Scott, listen to this! ‘Abraham Lincoln always destroyed his enemies by making them his friends.’”
“Very interesting,” Mrs. Scott responded. “But why does that make you so happy?”
“Well, Joe’s my enemy. Abraham Lincoln would destroy him by making him a friend. You said Joe needs friends. I wonder …”
“Maybe it would work, Matt,” Mrs. Scott remarked thoughtfully. “Joe’s gone home now, though.”
“For now I’m sure glad he goes north and I go south,” Matt replied. “See you in the morning, Mrs. Scott.”
All the way home Matt thought about how he could make Joe his friend. As he opened the kitchen door, he smelled the aroma of hot sugar cookies. “Mmmmm—cookies!” he said as he greeted his mother.
“Where have you been?” his mother asked. “I knew you’d want to help make the cookies, but I couldn’t wait any longer … Matt, is there something wrong?”
Matt sighed and sank into a chair. “I have a problem,” he replied. Picking up a warm cookie, he nibbled it thoughtfully. Then he had an idea! “Mom, would you make more cookies tomorrow?”
“You weren’t thinking about eating all of these tonight, were you!” she exclaimed.
“No, but maybe they’ll work with somebody else.”
“Maybe what will work? I don’t understand you these days, Matt. You have a stomachache every morning and don’t want to go to school. Then you’re late coming home. Won’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
“Not yet, Mom. But you’ll understand tomorrow, if my plan works.”
The next morning Matt was nervous, but he didn’t have a stomachache.
“Have a good day,” his mother said as he started out the door.
“Maybe I’ll bring somebody home after school. Will you have the things ready to make cookies?” Matt asked.
“Yes, if you want me to, I will.”
Matt was at his desk early and was reading his Lincoln book when the other students entered the room. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw Joe sauntering over to him. Matt’s stomach knotted as Joe leaned on his desk and hissed, “Where’d you disappear to yesterday?”
Matt swallowed hard and looked straight into Joe’s eyes. “Joe”—he swallowed harder—“my mom has something neat for us if you’ll come home with me today after school.”
Joe was taken completely by surprise. Then his face hardened as he leaned on Matt’s desk again with his fists clenched. “Sure. Big deal!”
Matt clenched his own fists under his desk and kept looking straight into Joe’s eyes. He forced himself to smile. “No kidding, Joe. You’ll like it!”
Joe’s face relaxed. “Your mom, huh? OK—I’m game!”
Matt stayed in at recess to help Mrs. Scott. He couldn’t take a chance on upsetting Joe on the playground and spoiling the whole thing.
After school Matt met Joe and asked, “Do you have to go home first and tell your mother you’ll be late?”
Now it was Joe who swallowed hard. “My mom’s not there. Nobody cares if I come straight home.”
“Oh,” Matt said, remembering too late what Mrs. Scott had told him about Joe’s family.
“I don’t have a mom anymore,” Joe went on. “What’s this neat thing supposed to be your mom has for us, anyway?”
Matt could tell that Joe’s wall of toughness was beginning to crumble. The two of them ran almost all the way to Matt’s house. His mother was smiling as they burst into the kitchen. “Well, I see you brought a friend.”
“This is my friend Joe, Mom. Oh, good, you have the things ready for the cookies.”
“Don’t forget to scrub your hands, boys,” Matt’s mother reminded them with a wink.
The boys helped Matt’s mother add all the ingredients for the soft dough, and then she rolled it out.
“Choose the cookie cutter you want, Joe,” Matt said.
Joe picked up a cookie cutter with the outline of a bat. Matt picked a ghost-shaped one.
Matt showed Joe how to cut out the cookies and put them carefully onto the cookie sheets with a spatula. Later they removed the baked ones just as carefully. They were really enjoying themselves by now. Occasionally they would eat some of the plain dough they pulled away from the cut cookies.
When all the cookies were baked, Matt’s mother made icing so they could decorate some of them.
“I’ve never done anything like this in my whole life!” Joe exclaimed. “Could I take a couple home to my sister?”
“Oh, you can take a box full,” Matt’s mother said with a smile of understanding. “Why don’t you two go out and play ball while the icing is setting?”
Later, as the boys packed the cookies in a flat box for Joe to take home, Matt thought happily to himself, Abraham Lincoln was right! You can destroy enemies by turning them into friends!