Brant sat on the curb and ran his fingers through his hair. “Look at this stupid report card!”
Willard shook his head and got to his feet. “You want to see a really stupid one? Look at mine!” He aimed his arm as if he was going to throw a javelin, then ran a couple of steps and threw his ball as hard as he could into the air.
Brant squinted in the afternoon sun. “It’s going over the fence! No! Right onto Mr. Lawson’s shed!” He covered his ears as the ball thudded on the roof and rolled off the other side.
The crash of the ball against the roof brought Brant to his feet and sent Willard ducking behind a bush. Mr. Lawson’s scowling face immediately appeared at his back screen door. Brant felt like hiding, too, but his dad always told him to face what was coming.
“What broke?” Mr. Lawson shouted angrily.
From his shelter, Willard nudged Brant forward. “Nothing, Mr. Lawson,” Brant replied. “Willard’s—” Willard socked Brant’s shoulder—“I mean, our ball bounced off your shed and landed on your property.”
Mr. Lawson’s eyes narrowed. “I suppose you want to get it.”
Brant shrugged. “It would only take a minute, if it’s OK.”
“What if I said no? You kids track through my yard and garden without any regard to the time and work that went into it.” Mr. Lawson opened the screen door and came outside, waving his arms. “Get your ball, but stay off my plants—especially my everbearing strawberries! I’ll be watching.”
Brant shoved his report card back into his pocket and put his books on the curb. He felt as if he was going into a mine field. He glanced at Willard, then entered the yard through the gate. Carefully he moved along the neatly weeded stone walkway and past the porch from which Mr. Lawson glared. Brant could almost feel his neighbor’s angry breath as he hurried around the corner of the shed and down the three timbered steps into the garden.
Bright flowers bobbed beneath the shed windows and along the walkway where the plump, juicy strawberries grew. Brant located the tattered ball among the lush green leaves. Sitting on his heels, he leaned forward, carefully maneuvered among the strawberry leaves, and grasped the ball. The sweet smell of the delicious fruit made his mouth water, but he didn’t take any.
He stood and returned just as carefully along the walkway. Mr. Lawson was standing by the timbered steps, still watching him like a hawk. “Thank you,” Brant muttered.
“Next time watch where you throw that thing!” Mr. Lawson thundered.
Back on the road, Brant tossed Willard the ball, and Willard handed him his books. “I always get the dirty work,” Brant grumbled as they continued to their homes.
“You handle stuff better.”
At the corner, they turned down the alley. “How am I going to handle this report card?” Brant said.
“What’s to handle? You usually get good grades.”
“Yeah, right! Then how do I explain a D in math?”
Willard laughed. “That will take some explaining!”
“Not funny, Will.”
“It is to me. I’m the one with bad grades. What happened to you?”
Brant shrugged and looked ahead toward his house. “Math happened. I’m lost.”
Willard patted Brant’s shoulder. “I don’t even show my folks my report card. Try that.”
Brant frowned. “Yeah, right! Hide it for a whole year? Get serious.”
“That’s what I do.” Willard flipped the ball in his hand. “My folks are too busy to even notice.”
“My folks know when report card day is. And if they forget, Randy reminds them.” Brant nodded toward the end of the street, where his little brother was walking home with a friend.
“Hi!” Randy called excitedly. “I got my report card!”
Brant jabbed Willard’s side. “See what I mean?”
“Wanna see my grades?” Randy offered eagerly. He shoved his report card into Brant’s face. “All A’s except one B!”
Brant patted Randy’s head. “Good work, Ran.”
“I get a dollar for every A,” Randy announced proudly.
Willard leaned close to Brant. “How much for a D?” he snickered.
Randy looked up quickly. “I didn’t get any D’s. After I tell Mom, I’m calling Dad at work and telling him my grades!” He raced toward the house.
Brant’s head throbbed. He knew he was slipping in math, but he hadn’t expected a D! Was this his year to hit his head against a brick wall? Please, Heavenly Father, he prayed silently, help me convince Mom and Dad I haven’t been goofing off. He opened the door and heard his brother’s excited voice.
“Yeah, Dad, all A’s and a B! Thanks! Do you want to talk to Brant?”
Brant shook his head and shivered, but it was too late. Randy shoved the phone into his hand. “Here, Brant, Dad wants to hear about your grades.”
At dinner everyone listened as Randy babbled about his good grades. Brant knew that Dad and Mom would wait till they were alone to drop the ax. After dinner, Randy ran out to play, leaving Brant alone. He wished he could disappear too. Instead, he went out onto the deck, where Dad was restringing the lawn trimmer.
As Brant slumped into a lawn chair, Dad looked up. “OK, so what’s with the D?”
Brant shrugged. “I’m having trouble with math.”
Dad leaned back and wiped his hands with a rag. “That’s no news flash.”
“I’ll do better next report period.”
“Good, but how do you plan to do that?”
Brant squirmed. “I’ll spend more time on my homework.”
Dad smiled. “That’s a step in the right direction. Another is no more after-school street hockey—homework first. No friends in, and no TV while you’re doing it. Plus, doing homework doesn’t mean rushing through and putting answers on paper. It means understanding how to solve the problems. Got that?”
“Good. Now get your homework, and we’ll look at it. I used to be pretty good at math.”
The following morning, Willard and Brant hurried to school. “How’d it go with the report card?” Willard asked.
Brant shrugged. “I’m kind of grounded till I get this math thing right.”
“What’s ‘kind of grounded’?”
“It means that homework gets top priority. Dad explained some things, and I understand the math a little better already. What happened with you?”
Willard grinned. “Nothing. I told you I’d get away without showing them my report card.”
Brant frowned. Willard got away with everything! Then they passed Mr. Lawson’s home, and he remembered how Willard had wanted him to get the ball because “you handle stuff better.”
Brant smiled to himself. If he did handle stuff better, it was because his folks took the time and trouble to show him and Randy the right way to do things. Thank you, Heavenly Father, he prayed silently. Thanks for giving us parents who love us enough to not let us get away with anything.