I hadn’t even been thinking of the new kid down the street—not until Mom remarked one evening at the supper table, “Toby Walker’s mom is surely glad that Toby has a good friend like you.”
I choked on my milk and looked across the table at Mom to see if she was kidding. “Who said I was Toby Walker’s friend?” I asked.
“Toby told his mom that you were his best friend,” Mom answered, glancing at me.
I set my glass down and licked the milk from my lips. “I have plenty of good friends without Toby,” I mumbled.
“Maybe Toby needs you for a friend,” Dad said as he reached for the rolls.
I shrugged my shoulders and tried to think about eating my peas and carrots. “Toby’s all right,” I grumbled. “It’s not that I don’t like him. It’s just … well, it’s just …”
Mom and Dad both stared at me and waited for me to explain. “I’m never mean to him,” I said, poking at my peas and carrots with my fork. “I don’t play keep-away with his hat or hide his books or tell him he can’t play baseball with us. I don’t say mean things to him.”
“Do you do nice things for him?” Mom asked.
“Or tell the other kids not to be mean to him?” Dad asked.
“Why should I do that?” I blurted out. “Toby’s not my—” I shoved a forkful of peas and carrots into my mouth, but I had a hard time chewing them, and I could fell my face turning red.
I didn’t think much about Toby until the next day at noon recess, when we were getting ready to choose up teams for baseball. Bobby Mills and I were the captains, and we were each trying to choose the best team that we could. I didn’t pay any attention to Toby until everyone else had been chosen and he was the only one left. It was Bobby’s turn to choose. He took one look at Toby and growled, “You can’t play, Walker. It will make the teams uneven.” Then he grinned. “Why don’t you see if the girls will let you play?”
Everybody laughed and headed onto the field. Toby stood looking down at the ground and digging at the grass with the toe of his shoe. Just as I was about to turn and run out to first base, Toby looked up and stared at me. He had big, sad brown eyes that looked out from under a shaggy mop of sandy hair. He didn’t say anything. He just turned and walked off and sat on the school steps to watch us play.
I tried to think about baseball. I tried to laugh and make jokes with the other guys, but I kept remembering Toby’s sad eyes. I also remembered what Mom and Dad had said the night before, and I wondered what it would be like to have no friends at school.
All afternoon I thought about Toby. When I came home from school, I was still thinking about him. As I dragged my feet up our walk, I glanced up and saw myself in the glass in our front door. Usually I liked to watch myself in the glass. My reflection was like having a good friend come out to greet me. But this afternoon I took one look in the glass, ducked my head, and went around to the back door, where there wasn’t a reflection. I knew then that I’d lost two friends that day—Toby and the guy in the glass.
The next day on my way home from school I spotted Toby a half block ahead of me. He was alone as usual. His head was down, his hands were in his pockets, and he was kicking a battered pop can down the sidewalk. For a long time I just watched him, staying back so that he wouldn’t know that I was there. Finally I hurried to catch up with him. “Hey,” I called out, “where’re you headed, Toby?”
He jumped and whirled around like he was scared; but as soon as he saw that it was me, he smiled and mumbled, “Hi, Kyle.”
I bit down on my lip. “I have a pretty nice tree house in my backyard,” I said. “Dad helped me make it. Want to come over and see it?”
Toby looked at me to see if I was kidding him. I wasn’t, so he nodded and we headed for my place.
We had a good time that afternoon. Toby was quiet at first, but it wasn’t long until he was talking and laughing and having a good time just like any other kid. I was having a good time too. We played Tarzan in the tree house, shot some marbles, played catch with my new football. And while we had cookies and milk on the back steps, we just talked. I liked Toby. He was as good a friend as a guy could have.
That afternoon I grinned at the guy I saw when I went into the house through the front door.
The next day at recess Bobby Mills said something about Toby always wearing the same pants and that they were full of fleas. Everybody laughed and started making fun of Toby, and he walked off by himself and sat under the weeping willow tree at the corner of the school grounds. I didn’t say anything bad about Toby or laugh at him. But I didn’t stick up for him either, not like a real friend would have done. That afternoon when I went home, I had to go through the back door again because I knew I couldn’t face the guy in the glass.
After supper I found Dad in the living room, reading the paper. “How can a guy be a real friend?” I asked.
Dad looked up and asked, “What do you mean, Kyle?”
I looked down at the floor. “It’s easy to be a friend to Toby here at home,” I said, “but when I go to school, I’m scared to be friends. I keep wondering if everyone else will start to laugh at me like they do at him.”
Dad dropped the paper on the floor and thought for a while. “Being a friend isn’t always easy,” he said. “Sometimes it takes more courage to be a friend than to be anything else.”
“Can a guy have that much courage?” I mumbled.
Dad reached over and squeezed my arm. “When Jesus was on the earth,” he said, “there were lots of men and women that other people didn’t like. There were poor people, lepers, publicans, and sinners. People probably made fun of them and wouldn’t be friends with them or even talk to them. But Jesus was a friend to everyone who needed Him. He knew that being a friend was very important. In fact, He said, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ [John 15:13]. And while we may not have to give up our lives for our friends, we should be willing to defend them when necessary, even when it’s not easy.”
That night when I knelt down by my bed, I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed before. I asked Heavenly Father to help me have the courage to be Toby’s friend.
At school the next day my stomach was churning and flopping, and I kept licking my lips and chewing my fingernails. The closer the clock’s little hand got to the twelve, the more I twisted and squirmed in my seat.
At lunch I finished my sandwich, drank my milk, and headed for the baseball diamond. When I got there, everyone else was lined up and ready for Bobby and me to choose sides.
I had hoped that Toby would be there, but he was over on the steps by himself. I told myself that since he wasn’t on the field ready to play, I didn’t have to help him out, that he didn’t want to play, that maybe he liked being by himself. I looked around, about to choose someone else. But I couldn’t. I knew I had a job to do. I thought about Jesus and the lepers and the publicans, and I knew what He would do if He had to choose a team.
“Come on, Kyle,” Bobby said. “You’re choosing first. Let’s get going!”
I looked across the field toward Toby. “Hey, Toby, you’re on my side!” Toby looked up. Even though he was a long way away and I couldn’t see his face, I could tell that he was surprised. I waved for him to come over and shouted again, “Toby, you’re on my team. Hurry!”
For a moment no one said anything. Everyone just stared at me, then at Toby, wondering if I was playing a joke. Even Toby wondered, because he came over kind of slow and had his hands deep in his pockets and was just waiting for someone to laugh or tell him to go play with the girls.
“What do you want him for?” Bobby asked.
I guess he thought I would choose Billy Taylor or Brandon Cooper or Justin Knight. I just shrugged and said, “your turn, Bobby.”
“He doesn’t even have a mitt,” Bobby growled.
“I’ll let him use mine,” I answered.
“You’re going to lose. He doesn’t even know how to play ball.”
“Your turn, Bobby,” I said.
“Who even said he could play?” Bobby demanded, scowling at Toby.
I licked my lips, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “I said he could play,” I replied hoarsely. “I’m choosing, and I can choose anybody I want. I choose Toby.”
“But why is what I want to know?” Bobby insisted. “Why him?”
“Because he’s my friend,” I answered. The word was out before I really had a chance to think about it, but as soon as I’d said it, I felt good about it, and I knew then that it didn’t really matter who won or who lost the game.
My team didn’t win that day. We lost by two runs. But when I went home that afternoon, I didn’t sneak in the back door. I marched up the front walk and onto the porch and looked my reflection right in the eye. I knew then that I’d made two friends that day—Toby and the guy in the glass.