The worst part of it was the look on Ben’s face as soon as he saw me. No one had ever been afraid of me before, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t blame Ben, though. The kids had been really mean to him yesterday. He had a bandage on his chin, and I wondered if he had cut it on the fence, trying to get away from them. No, not “them”—“us”! I had been there too. I didn’t push him or call him any of the ugly names that had rung in my ears all night. But I hadn’t tried to stop them. I’d even laughed when Ron had tried to trip him.
That’s why I had to talk to Ben in the coatroom. “Don’t be scared,” I started. “I just want to say I’m sorry. I’m not going to tease you anymore. I’ll try to not let the others do it, either.”
“I’m not scared,” Ben lied. I didn’t blame him for that, either. I guessed that he was trying to be brave—he was even trying to smile. “Does this mean that you’ll be my friend?”
“No.” It sounded ruder than I meant it to. He quit smiling and looked confused. I tried to explain. “It was really wrong for everyone to gang up on you. But even though we do some wrong things, these guys are my friends—we’ve known each other since kindergarten. I don’t even know you. But I’m not going to let everyone pick on you again.”
Ben still looked confused, but we had been in the coatroom way too long. …
At recess, I took my football out, and most of the other boys went with me. We fifth-grade boys play the sixth-grade boys after school on Fridays. They always win, but we try, and we practice every recess.
I saw Ben sitting by the classroom door. He was alone, but no one was bothering him. He laughed out loud when he saw Ron throw the ball. Ron never threw a football straight. His throws were long but wobbly, and no one could catch them. Ben was lucky that Ron didn’t see or hear him laughing. Ron couldn’t take a joke, and he fought a lot better than he threw a football.
After lunch, Ron started shoving Ben away from the drinking fountain, and he called him a few names. But everyone followed me when I yelled, “Last one to the fence is a wet dishrag!” Even Ron followed—he hates to be last. So Ben got his drink, and no one bothered him for the rest of the day.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I told Mom about it after school. She shook her head. “That’s a good start, but what he really needs is a friend. Maybe if no one is teasing him, someone will find out what kind of friend he can be.”
The rest of the week most of my friends just ignored him, and after a try or two, even Ron began to let him be. By the end of the week, though, I was wishing that someone would be his friend soon, because it really bothered me to see him alone all the time.
We lost the Friday-afternoon game, and I couldn’t wait to get home. Dad had asked me to help him paint our fence on Saturday. I was the only boy my age in our ward who went to West Elementary, so I wasn’t going to have to worry about Ben or school or even football for two days!
While we painted the fence, I told Dad about how I had been keeping the kids, especially Ron, from teasing Ben all week. I told him what Mom had said about someone becoming his friend.
“Who do you think will be that friend?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know. Not me. He wears corduroy pants and green sweaters.” I thought Dad would understand, but he didn’t.
“Can’t someone in corduroy pants throw a football far enough?” he asked with a funny smile on his face.
“How would I know? I’ve never seen him throw a football. He just sits by himself.”
“So how are you going to find out what kind of friend he is under that green sweater?”
“Why do I have to find out? Someone else can! I stopped the teasing!”
“Oh, someone will, eventually,” Dad said. “I just figured that since you stopped the teasing, you’d have a head start on being friendly. The others don’t seem to have that kind of gumption.”
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. I knew that Ben’s clothes weren’t the important thing, but if he didn’t know what to wear, how could he be one of us? If I tried to include him, what would the other guys think? What if he laughed at Ron again? Would I get beat up too?
Saturday night, Dad went with the elders quorum presidency to welcome a new family into the ward. He didn’t get home until after I’d gone to bed, so I didn’t know that Ben would be in my Valiant class the next day at Primary. But there he was. I could tell that he was uncomfortable. So was I. But he smiled nervously at me, so I smiled back.
He knew all the Primary songs, and he sang “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” as loudly as I did. Sister Alvarez reminded us to sing, because we were trying to out-sing each other and we were practically yelling. She asked us if we were really planning to go on missions. Ben said that his brother was on a mission in Texas now.
In class, he showed me a wallet that his brother had sent him. It was real leather, with leaves and acorns tooled into it. It had his name carved on the inside—and a picture of his brother. He looked just like Ben, only much older. Ben said that his brother was going to play football for Brigham Young University after his mission. Then Ben said that he wished he could keep in practice, because he’d always played with him when his brother was home from school.
“We play all the time at school—you should play with us.” I’d said the words before I’d thought about them, but they seemed the right thing to say, so I didn’t try to take them back.
After the lesson, one of the guys asked Brother Clark why he was Brother Clark in church, but Mr. Clark at school. Brother Clark told us that it was because of something King Benjamin had said in the Book of Mormon. He read to us where the king called his people together to tell them about serving Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He said that when they were baptized, they became the “children of Christ.”* That made us all “brothers” and “sisters.” Then Brother Clark read a scripture in the New Testament that said the members of the Church were “no more strangers” but were now “of the household of God.”**
Well, that explained why Ben didn’t seem so strange anymore—and why it wasn’t hard to be friends with him, after all. He was “no more a stranger”—he was my brother! So of course I’d asked him to play football with us! I just hoped the other guys would understand. That night I prayed that I would have the kind of gumption that Dad thought I had.
At recess on Monday, Ben almost did blend in. He must’ve practiced a lot with his brother, because he—Ben, I mean—could throw farther and straighter than any of the rest of us. It was beautiful to watch the football leave his hand and fly wherever he wanted it to go. And he could catch almost as well as he could throw—he just seemed to appear wherever the ball was about to land. He could even catch Ron’s wobbly passes!
The only time all day that I worried about Ben was when he tried to help Ron throw the ball straight. Ben was clear across the field when he yelled to Ron, “Grip the strings,” so I knew that Ron couldn’t get him. But I did think that he’d blown his chance to fit in at school.
I was wrong, though. Ron didn’t say anything! And he must’ve gripped the strings, because he threw the ball straight, and clear back over to Ben!
Ron and Ben were always together after that, except when Ron went home for lunch. Then Ben and I ate together in the cafeteria. One day I told Ben how surprised I was that he and Ron were such good friends.
“I knew that Ron would be my friend if I could get him to stop teasing me.”
“How’d you know that?”
“Because my mom said that at every school there’s someone who needs a friend to help them with something and that I’d find one here. When I saw Ron throw a football, I knew he was the friend who really needed me! And after we beat the sixth-grade team on Friday, I’m going to ask him to come to church with us on Sunday.”
I must’ve looked surprised, because Ben laughed again and added, “Maybe Brother Clark and Sister Alvarez can get him to quit trying to beat everyone up.”
When we really did beat the sixth-grade team—for the first time in history—Ben did as he’d promised. I was surprised again when Ron said, “Sure.”
Now there are three of us from West Elementary at Primary every Sunday. Since snow has covered the football field, we’re working hard at something else—memorizing Articles of Faith. In two more weeks Ron, Ben, and I are going to say them together in sacrament meeting when Ben’s brother reports on his mission.
We have something exciting to report, too: Ben and his parents and me and my parents all meet every Tuesday night at Ron’s house with the local missionaries. His dad said that anything that can keep Ron out of trouble the way going to Primary with Ben and me has is worth investigating. Ron’s mom said that if we do a good job on the Articles of Faith for Ben’s brother, we can say them again at Ron’s baptism!