When the class came back after lunch, the money jar was gone. The small fruit jar with a slit in the lid had been sitting on Ms. Adams’s desk for the past week. Her students had been dropping in pennies, nickels, dimes, and even a few quarters to be used to help a family in town pay its medical bills.
“I’ll bet Steve took the money,” Mike muttered just loudly enough for the rest of the class to hear him.
“Yeah, he probably did,” Ted agreed.
The class turned to look at Steve sitting near the back of the room. They waited for him to say something, but he just glared at them.
“Stop that right now!” Ms. Adams reprimanded them. “We don’t know who took the jar, and it’s wrong to accuse anyone.”
But everyone thinks I’m the thief, Steve thought.
On the bus ride home, a lot of students were looking at Steve and whispering. As he walked down the aisle to get off at his stop, Mike jeered, “What are you going to do with the money, Steve—spend it on candy and soda pop?”
The other kids all snickered. Steve began to answer Mike but instead quickly got off the bus and ran home.
“What’s wrong, son?” his mother asked as he slammed the door and threw his books in a chair.
Steve told her about the money jar. “Mom, I’m not happy at this school. I wish we’d never moved here. No one likes me. I’ve tried to make friends, but I just don’t fit in.”
“I know it can be hard when you have to leave old friends and make new ones.” Mom put her arm around him. “But you have to keep trying. Remember that most people are really good. You just have to give them a chance. You’ll see.”
“But how can I prove that I didn’t take the money jar?” He slumped into a chair.
“Maybe you can’t prove it,” Mom told him. “But you know that you didn’t steal the money, and that’s what’s really important.”
“I guess so,” Steve sighed, “but no one will ever want to be my friend if I can’t prove I’m not the thief.”
“All I can say now is to just hang in there. I have a hunch something good will happen.” Mom stood up and got her purse. “I haven’t forgotten that I owe you this for doing your chores.” She handed him a dollar bill. “Remember, it will have to last a long time.”
During school the next day, all Steve’s classmates shunned him—or worse. At times the taunting was almost more than he could bear. Still, his teacher did what she could to ease his load, and he thought a few of the kids were at least suspending judgment.
Just before lunch, as Ms. Adams was asking the class to start again with a new jar, Mr. Jones, the principal, walked in. He held out the missing money jar. “A friend stopped by yesterday, and I borrowed your money jar to show him what a good job this class is doing. Then I got busy after he left, and I forgot to bring the jar back. I’m sorry if the delay has caused any problems.”
“We are very glad to get it back,” Ms. Adams said, smiling at Steve. “We thought it had been stolen. I think that we’re learning a valuable lesson in why we believe that people should be considered innocent until they’re proven guilty.” She glanced at Mike, who looked very ashamed of himself.
Mr. Jones left, and Mike immediately raised his hand and apologized to Steve. And at lunchtime the others who had taunted him told him they were sorry for what they’d thought and said. Almost all of them suddenly wanted sincerely to be his friend.
When the class came back after lunch, they had another surprise—there was a dollar bill in the money jar!
“Well, what do you know,” Ms. Adams laughed. “This class is full of surprises. I wonder if we’ll ever find out who put in the dollar bill.”
“I’ll bet it was Mr. Jones,” someone said.
“Yes, you’re probably right,” others agreed out loud.
Steve just smiled. I know who put the dollar bill in the jar. And like Mom said, that’s what’s really important.