Jeff stood in his room, admiring his newest first place archery trophy. It was the third one he had won this year. He was thinking about how much he enjoyed archery—it had no pushing or shoving, like football did, and no need to be a good jumper or runner, like in basketball. There was just quiet practice until you were good at hitting the bull’s-eye.
His thoughts were interrupted when he heard his mother coming down the hall. “Jason and I are going to clean up the frog pond,” he said. “We won’t be gone long, Mom.”
“Are you sure you feel up to it?” Mother asked. “You still have a bump from yesterday.”
Jeff rubbed his forehead and felt the egg-shaped bump. He had gotten it in a fight with a new boy in the neighborhood, but he had told his mother he had fallen off his bike. Now he felt ashamed about lying to her. “Mom,” he said.
“Mom, I feel OK, but I didn’t really fall off my bike.” He lowered his head. “I got into a fight with that new boy down the street.”
“I see. Well, I was sort of wondering if that would happen.”
“You mean you thought I’d get into a fight with him?”
“Well, I hoped that you wouldn’t, but when some of the other mothers in the neighborhood told me that he’d picked fights with their sons, I figured that sooner or later he’d get around to you.”
“I didn’t even do anything to him,” Jeff began to explain. “I just told him that I didn’t believe that his father had been a general in the Army during the war. Why did he punch me for that?”
Jeff’s mother sat on his bed so that she could look him right in the eye. She spoke softly. “Some people hurt inside themselves almost all the time. And many times these people make up stories, thinking that they will help the hurt go away. Then when someone else points out that the stories aren’t true, they feel hurt and embarrassed, so they fight. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, I think so. But what does that have to do with the new boy?”
“I think that maybe the new boy is hurting inside and feels that no one likes him. About two years ago, his mother and father died. Since then he’s lived with seven or eight different families. He’s staying with the Wilsons now, and although they hope to adopt him if things work out, I think that having lost his parents, and all that moving around between foster homes, makes him feel that no one wants him.”
Jeff could feel a hard lump in his throat as he thought about how bad he would feel if his own parents died.
His mom reached over and gave him a hug.
“Mom, what can I do if he keeps wanting to fight me?”
His mother thought a minute. “Well,” she began, “I’d say you should show him that you don’t want to hurt him, that you’d like to be his friend.”
“How do I do that?”
“I’m not sure, but there must be some way. Why don’t you pray about it? And if you see him today, you could invite him over for some cookies. I’m going to be baking some right away.”
Mom left, and Jeff was just getting up from his knees, when someone knocked on the front door. “That’s Jason,” he called to his mother. “We’ll be home for lunch.”
“You still have the lump, I see,” Jason said, pointing to Jeff’s forehead as the two boys headed towards the frog pond.
“Don’t worry—we’ll get that kid. Billy’s going to meet us at the pond. If that new kid’s there, we’ll get him.”
“I don’t know, Jason. Maybe we should try to be his friend.”
“His friend? I’m not going to be his friend. Not after the way he’s been beating people up.”
“Maybe that’s because he doesn’t have any friends.”
“Well, he won’t get me for one.”
By this time, the boys had arrived at the small band of trees that surrounded the frog pond. By looking between the trees, they could see that the new boy was indeed there, his back to them. They could see him standing on the bank of the pond, holding a bow and arrow. As they watched, he suddenly set them down, gathered a bunch of large rocks, and started chunking them into the frog pond.
“What’s he doing?” Jeff asked.
“I don’t know,” Jason answered.
Billy came up behind them. “What’re you guys watching?”
“Shhh,” Jason told him. “It’s that new kid. He’s throwing rocks at frogs or something—we can’t see what.”
The three boys continued to watch, hidden in the trees. Pretty soon the new boy reached down and pulled a small green and yellow turtle out of the pond. Jeff felt sick as he watched the turtle wildly wave its legs in a useless struggle to get away.
“What’d he do that for?” Billy asked.
“I don’t know,” said Jason, “but let’s get him!”
Before Jeff could say anything, his two friends were scrambling through the trees toward the new boy. When he caught up with them, Jason and Billy had backed the new boy up to a tree.
“Why’d you grab that turtle?” Jason demanded.
“Yeah,” Billy added. “It never did anything to you.”
“It’s none of your business. It isn’t your turtle, is it?”
Jason jumped towards the boy and snatched the turtle out of his hand.
“Give it back,” the boy demanded.
“Make me,” Jason challenged as Billy moved over next to him.
Jeff saw traces of tears starting in the new boy’s eyes and thought about what his mother had said: “Try to show him that you don’t want to hurt him.” But how could he do that? He had an idea, but he wasn’t sure it would work. One thing he did know, though he would never help by doing nothing. He took a deep breath and stepped between Jason and the other boy.
“Let me just explain something,” he began. “It’s not our turtle, but we don’t like to see helpless things getting hit by rocks. Besides, you have a bow and arrow—why not try to hit something worthless”—he looked around for something he felt the boy could hit—“like that plastic milk jug over there?” Jeff pointed to a jug about twenty feet away.
“That? That’s easy. Watch this.”
The boy fit his arrow to the bow, took careful aim, and let the arrow fly. It hit the jug almost dead center.
“There! What’s so hard about that?”
“Well, it’s harder than throwing rocks at turtles, isn’t it?”
“Maybe, but I wasn’t throwing at the turtle, just near it so I could catch it for a pet. Anyway,” he said, pointedly changing the topic, “I bet you couldn’t hit the jug at all, let alone dead center.”
Jason and Billy, who had been watching this exchange with some questioning in their eyes, now erupted in laughter. “Jeff is the best shot in the neighborhood. He has his own target in his backyard. He could shoot better than you with his eyes closed!”
The other boy quickly glanced at Jeff, and Jeff could see the distrust in his eyes. “Well, I do have my own target, but that doesn’t make me the best shot. Besides, we came over to clean up the litter, not use it for target practice. If you want to have a contest, though, let’s go to my house and do it there. Besides, my mom’s making some cookies right now, so we can get some while they’re warm. How about it?”
Jason and Billy didn’t say anything. They were still trying to figure out what was going on.
“I don’t know,” the boy replied. “What kind of cookies are they?”
“I’m not sure,” Jeff answered. “We’ll have to see when we get there.”
The boy thought a minute as he looked first at Jeff, then at Billy, then at Jason.
“OK,” he finally said. “But if I don’t like the cookies, I might leave.”
When Jason heard this, he started to say something, but Jeff spoke up quickly, “That’s OK—you can stay or leave or whatever you want.”
The other boy nodded his approval, Jason took the turtle back to the pond, and they all started off toward Jeff’s house.
Somehow Jeff knew that no matter what kind of cookies they were, the new boy would stay. And he had a feeling that there would be four boys cleaning up the frog pond that afternoon—as friends!