Sweat trickled down Randy’s back as he lugged the heavy wire cage onto the grass. “Boy, it’s hot for March, Honeybun, even for Georgia,” he said to the black-and-white rabbit. “You’ll be comfortable in the shade of this apricot tree, though, and you can munch some nice fresh grass while I’m at soccer practice.” Randy brought the hose and filled Honeybun’s dish with water.
“Isn’t that Jim’s rabbit?” Dad asked as he walked by pushing the lawn mower.
“Yes. I’m pet-sitting while he’s away this weekend. Honeybun’s going to win a blue ribbon for Jim at the county 4-H contest this summer,” Randy said. He petted the rabbit gently, stroking the soft fur on her flanks and lightly tickling her ears. She was happily chewing the long grass poking through the bottom of the cage as Randy left for soccer practice.
After practice, Randy went home with a friend and stayed until late in the afternoon. When he returned home, Dad was waiting for him in the front yard. “I just moved Jim’s rabbit back into the shade, Randy,” he said. “The sun had traveled to that side of the apricot tree long ago, and I’m afraid his rabbit was in the sun too long. She doesn’t look good.”
Randy ran to the backyard and crouched by the cage. Honeybun was lying on her side, panting. She stared at Randy listlessly. Every few minutes she struggled to get up, only to fall over again.
“Come on, Honeybun! Get up, girl!” Randy urged. He got some water from the hose and sprinkled the trembling form. Honeybun shuddered and lay still, barely breathing. “Oh, no,” Randy groaned.
Dad squatted down by the cage and shook his head.
Randy went into the house and lay on his bed. What if Honeybun died? How could he ever explain to Jim what had happened? He stared at the ceiling for a long time; tears began to slide down his cheeks.
Dad came to the door of Randy’s room. “I’m afraid that the rabbit’s dead, Son,” he said quietly. He put his arm around Randy’s shoulder, and together they went outside and buried Honeybun in the freshly plowed earth of the vegetable patch.
“Dad, would you tell Jim for me?” Randy asked. “I don’t think that I can do it.”
“You took the job, Randy. You’ll have to tell him.”
“Please, Dad,” Randy begged. “I just can’t face him. What if he’s mad? Maybe he won’t be my friend anymore.”
“It’s never easy to give someone bad news, Son, especially if it was your fault. But I think you need to tell Jim yourself.”
Randy turned away and got his bike and wheeled slowly out of the yard. He wanted to get away from everything, as far away as possible. As he rode, the breeze brushed back the hair on his forehead and dried the sweat on his neck. But it couldn’t blow away the terrible lump in his throat.
Randy slowed down as he passed the ice-cream store on Main Street. He dug into his pockets, but they were empty. Next door he saw Alec’s Pet Shop. Usually she had birds or kittens in the window. Randy’s eyes almost popped when he saw the new display. Several fat, sleek, black-and-white rabbits frolicked on artificial turf! A sign read: “Dutch Rabbits—$8.00.”
Randy began thinking, What if … ? Rabbits are rabbits, aren’t they? They don’t come when you call their name, or sleep on the end of your bed. Jim probably couldn’t tell the difference, and he could still win a blue ribbon.
Randy raced home and counted the money in his savings bank. There was the five-dollar bill that Grandma had given him for his last birthday, some quarters from his allowance, and a bunch of dimes, nickels, pennies. Altogether he had $9.49. Randy stuffed the money into his pocket and practically flew downtown on his bike. He felt sure that his troubles would soon be over.
“I’d like to see that big rabbit, the one over in the corner,” he told the shopkeeper. “Is it a male or a female?”
“That’s the only female,” he answered. “She’s a beauty.”
Randy tried to cuddle the rabbit, but quickly dropped it. “Ouch!” he cried. “This rabbit scratches!” The rabbit scooted across the floor and squeezed close to the wall. Randy took some pellets from an open bin and held out his hand. “Come here, Honeybun,” he called hopefully. The rabbit scrunched even closer to the wall and pressed her ears tightly against her body.
“She’s not very tame, is she?” Randy said aloud, thinking, She’s not at all like Jim’s Honeybun, who loved to eat from his hand and sit quietly in his arms to be stroked.
Randy and the shopkeeper finally cornered the big rabbit and got her back into the pen.
“Do you want to buy her?” the shopkeeper asked.
Sadly Randy shook his head. He knew that his wonderful idea wouldn’t work. This rabbit couldn’t replace Honeybun. He knew what he’d have to do. Telling Jim would be hard, maybe the hardest thing that he’d ever done, but it was the only thing to do. And he would offer the money to his friend so that Jim could decide whether or not to replace Honeybun. Randy climbed onto his bike and started home.