Not a Thief


Mark, Ben, and Corey were kneeling in the sandpile, building tunnels and roads for their cars and men. The boys were so busy that they didn’t see Patrick ride up on his bike.

He stood watching for a while. Finally he asked, “Can I play?”

“No. Go away, Patrick,” Ben said without even looking up.

“There’s no room in my sandpile for you,” Mark added.

The three boys continued playing and ignored Patrick.

“Anyone want lemonade?” Mark’s mom called from the open kitchen window.

“Yes!” Mark yelled enthusiastically. The other boys shouted yes too.

When Mark’s mom brought out four glasses of lemonade on a tray, Mark said, “He’s not playing,” pointing at Patrick. Patrick stood back and hung his head.

Mom gave Patrick a glass of lemonade. “He can still be thirsty, can’t he?” she said to Mark. When they had finished drinking, Mom asked Mark to help her carry the glasses back inside.

“Why won’t you let Patrick play?” Mom asked Mark when they were in the kitchen.

“He’s a thief, Mom,” Mark explained. “Everyone knows it. He stole one of my men.”

“Oh?” Mom raised an eyebrow. “When?”

“Last summer.” Mark hesitated. “He gave it back, but the guys are worried that he’ll take some more.”

Mom looked hard at Mark. “Haven’t you ever done something wrong and been sorry later?” she asked.

Mark squirmed. “Yes, I guess so,” he admitted. “But you always say it’s wrong to steal.”

“Yes, stealing is wrong. But it’s important to forgive too.”

“Maybe,” Mark said, unconvinced. He scuffed his foot impatiently on the floor. “Can I go now? The guys are waiting for me.”

Mom nodded, and Mark ran back outside.

That evening Mark hurried to clear away the supper dishes so that he could go out and play. In his haste, he bumped into the counter and dropped his plate. The plate shattered when it hit the floor.

“Gee, I’m sorry, Mom,” he said as he swept up the pieces.

Mom smiled understandingly. “I forgive you,” she said.

As he put away the broom and finished clearing the table, Mark thought about what his mom had said. She didn’t have to forgive him, he knew. He wondered how he would feel if she had stayed mad at him. Mark started thinking about other times when he’d had an accident or had done something wrong. Dad still lets me use his hammer, even after I cracked the handle. And I can still go camping with him, even though I lost his best flashlight the last time we went. Mark was suddenly very glad that his parents gave him a second chance when he made a mistake.

The next day, Mark and his friends were setting up some toy men on the front porch. Patrick came along and watched them longingly, but he didn’t ask to play. Mark looked at Ben and Corey, then at Patrick. He hesitated, then beckoned. “Come on over, Patrick. You can be on my side.”

“You’re letting that thief play?” Corey protested.

“He’s not a thief,” Mark said firmly. “He just made a mistake once. He can use some of my men.”

“Well, OK,” Corey grumbled. “But keep your eyes on him.”

“Thanks,” Patrick said, smiling. “I won’t take anything. I promise.”

Ben moved over to make room for him.

Later, as Mark helped his mom set the supper table, she said, “I’m glad you let Patrick play this afternoon.”

“I am, too,” Mark said. “Tomorrow he’s going to bring over some of his cars and men for us to play with. I think he’s learned his lesson about taking things.”

“Yes,” Mom said. “And you’ve learned a lesson about forgiving.” She gave him a big hug, and Mark grinned.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Richard Hull