Ben and the Birthday Thief

When Ben got up that morning, he was very happy. Not only was it Friday, it was his birthday. His mother had told him that three of his very best friends could come home with him after school and spend the night.

Even school that day was fun for Ben. The whole class sang “Happy Birthday” to him, Mrs. Whitaker let him give each of his classmates one of the chocolate cupcakes that his mother had baked, and everybody had fun. Ben felt very special.

On their way home from school, Ben and his friends stopped at Mr. Jeffrey’s store. Ben wanted to show the other boys a watch that he wanted.

“Is that what you’re getting for your birthday?” Frank asked.

“No,” Ben said. “My mom thinks it will mean more to me if I save up and buy it with my own money.”

After the boys had admired the watch, Frank said, “You guys wait for me outside, OK? I’ll be out in a minute.”

“OK,” Ben agreed, placing the watch back on the jewelry counter.

Frank was very quiet when he came out of the store. “Are you all right?” Ben asked.

“Sure,” answered Frank. “I was just thinking about something.”

That evening Ben’s mother had his favorite kind of pizza for dinner. Afterward they had birthday cake, then played games until it was time for Ben to open his presents.

Ben smiled when he opened the new shoes and pants his mom and dad had bought him. He knew that that was what they would give him, because he had tried them on when his mother took him shopping. His little brother, Sam, gave him a plastic snake that crawled up and down a long green stick. Eric gave him a jigsaw puzzle, and Paul gave him a model of the latest space shuttle.

When Ben finished opening the presents everyone else had given him, Frank reached into his pocket and handed Ben a small brown box. “I’m sorry I didn’t wrap it. I just didn’t have time.”

Ben knew what was in the box as soon as he saw it. He had seen it almost every day after school for a whole month. He was so surprised that all he could say was, “It’s the watch from Mr. Jeffrey’s store!”

When the boys finally settled into their sleeping bags for the night, Ben whispered to Frank, “I really like the watch, but that was a lot of money to spend on a birthday present. …”

“You don’t need money if you’re smart,” Frank quietly replied. “Old Mr. Jeffrey will never even know it’s gone.”

Ben thought about what Frank had told him. It doesn’t seem right to keep something that was stolen from Mr. Jeffrey, Ben finally told himself, but I didn’t take the watch, and if I tell, Frank will be in trouble. Maybe if I try especially hard to do what’s right, it will make up for what Frank did that was wrong.

Ben was extra good that weekend. He helped his mother with the dishes without complaining. He took the garbage out without being asked. He played with Sam while Mom fixed dinner. He even cleaned up his room, something he really hated to do. But it didn’t work. He still felt bad about the watch. In Church on Sunday when he tried to think about Jesus during the sacrament, he felt even worse than ever.

On Monday everybody at school admired Ben’s watch. Even Tommy Evans wanted to see it, and there weren’t many things that Tommy liked. The only person who didn’t say something nice about the watch was Frank. “What’s wrong?” Ben asked him at recess.

“Nothing,” Frank said quietly.

“Do you feel bad about taking the watch?” Ben asked softly.

Ben could see that his friend was trying hard not to cry. Neither boy said anything for a minute; then Frank blurted, “I just wanted to get you a nice birthday present, but I know that what I did was wrong.”

“I don’t feel right about wearing it, either, so let’s take it back to Mr. Jeffrey after school,” Ben suggested.

Frank smiled at his friend. “I’d feel a lot better if we did. I’ll make it up to you somehow.”

When the boys walked into Mr. Jeffrey’s store, he was as happy to see them as he had ever been. Ben just handed the brown box across the counter without saying a word.

At first Mr. Jeffrey just looked surprised; then he looked hurt. “How could you do this?” he asked, looking at Ben. “I thought you were my friend, and I trusted you.”

“I’m the one who took the watch, Mr. Jeffrey,” Frank told him. “I’m really sorry. I just wanted to give Ben a nice birthday present, and I didn’t think you’d miss it.”

“And I feel bad because I kept the watch after I found out that it was stolen,” Ben said.

“You know,” Mr. Jeffrey said angrily, “that when something is stolen from the store, I lose the money that I paid for it. So I have to charge a little more for everything else in the store to make up for the loss.”

“I never thought of it that way,” said Frank.

“I’m glad that we brought the watch back,” Ben added. “We really are sorry.”

Mr. Jeffrey’s face softened. “Yes, you did bring it back, and that was a brave thing for you to do. I’m proud of both of you, and I think that you have learned something.”

Ben had a lot to think about as he and Frank walked home together. He still liked the watch in Mr. Jeffrey’s store, and he’d work hard until he saved enough money to buy it. Looking at Frank, Ben was glad that he had a friend who would help him do what was right. And Ben was grateful for a friend like Mr. Jeffrey, who had forgiven him when he had done wrong.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Diane Pierce