I don’t know how many times people had told us to make friends, but one day in Miss Cocks’s third grade class, that was exactly what Aubrey, Shanae, and I did. We actually “made” a friend.
At first our friend didn’t have a lot of personality. She was a little bit flat and colorless because we made her out of sheets of white drawing paper that we taped together and cut out into the rough shape of a girl. Then we drew a face on her, propped her up in a chair, and slid her up to the desk.
Shanae, Aubrey, and I didn’t actually need a friend. We just needed a body, someone or something to take up space so that Miss Cocks wouldn’t assign another someone to sit with us.
All of the desks in the classroom were arranged in groups of four. There was an odd number of students in the room. Two groups had only three students, and Aubrey, Shanae, and I felt lucky to end up together with no one sitting in the fourth desk.
We really didn’t want anybody else joining us. So when Shanae took a note to the office for Miss Cocks and saw a new student, she hurried back to class with the awful news.
“Brittany,” she whispered to me, “there’s a new boy in the office, and I think he’s coming to our room. What if we get stuck with him?”
“A boy will ruin everything,” I muttered.
That’s when Shanae, Aubrey, and I decided to make our friend. We had to work fast, but we had her propped in the empty chair when Mr. Yost, the principal, escorted Jesse to our classroom.
Miss Cocks’s gaze settled first on our group. We all giggled. “Our group is full,” I announced. “We made a friend during art, and she’s sitting right there—see?”
“I didn’t know that you girls could make a friend so quickly,” Miss Cocks said, trying to hold back her own smile. She was sort of used to Aubrey and me, because she was the Primary president in our ward. She shrugged. “I guess Jesse will get to sit by Melissa in the other group.”
After Jesse was properly introduced to the class, Shanae, Aubrey, and I fixed up our friend, carefully using our scissors to give her a better shape. We got out our crayons and colored her face and glued on yellow construction-paper hair. We also painted a dress and shoes on her.
Later, when Miss Cocks started our social studies lesson, she turned to us. “Oh, by the way, Brittany, you girls haven’t had a chance to introduce your friend to the class. After all, she’s new, too.”
She caught all three of us by surprise. At first we just sat there. Then I got an idea. My favorite cousin’s name was Kerstin, so I took a deep breath, stood up, and pointed at our homemade friend. “Class,” I explained, “this is our new friend, Kerstin.”
“Where did she live before she came here?” Miss Cocks wanted to know.
I cleared my throat. “Oh, she lived in a big, dark forest. In fact, I think she was a tree.” I grinned.
Shanae stood up next to me and added, “And we hope all of you will be especially nice to her. She’s not used to being around so many people.”
“She doesn’t talk very much,” Aubrey joined in. “She’s very shy, so if you’d like to tell her something, you’ll have to talk to one of us.”
Most of the guys in the class rolled their eyes and the girls mostly snickered. Miss Cocks raised her eyebrows but only said, “Kerstin, I’m glad that you were able to get out of the big, dark forest. It’s nice to have you in our class. And,” she added solemnly, “I hope some of your quietness will rub off onto your three friends.”
That’s how Kerstin came to be our friend. We might have forgotten all about her, wadded her up, and thrown her into the trash at the end of the day. But as Miss Cocks was passing out our social studies crossword puzzle, she skipped Kerstin. Shanae raised her hand and pointed out, “You didn’t give Kerstin one.” She covered her mouth to hide a grin.
“Does Kerstin know how to do crossword puzzles?” Miss Cocks asked. “Coming from the big, dark forest, she probably doesn’t even know what the states are, and a person has to know the states in order to do this crossword puzzle.”
“Kerstin is a little slow,” Aubrey spoke up.
“But we’ll help her,” I volunteered. “That’s what friends are for.”
Miss Cocks considered a moment, then set a crossword puzzle in front of Kerstin. “Kerstin,” she said slowly, “if you have any questions, just ask one of your three very silly friends.”
Shanae, Aubrey, and I hurried through our own puzzles. As we worked together on Kerstin’s, we carefully explained to her what we were doing and why. The rest of the kids in the class shook their heads and muttered under their breaths.
When it was time for recess, I raised my hand.
“Is it all right if Kerstin stays in during recess? She has a bad cold.”
“That’s why she’s so pale,” Aubrey joined in.
“Besides,” Shanae added, “she doesn’t have a coat.”
“Then I think Kerstin had better stay in,” Miss Cocks agreed. “She can keep me company.”
When we returned from recess, Miss Cocks announced, “Only one person had a hundred percent on the crossword puzzle. Our new student Kerstin got every one of them correct.”
“If she got a hundred,” I protested, “the rest of us had to get a hundred, too.”
Miss Cocks shook her head. “Well, you missed 7-Across, Shanae missed 17-Down, and Aubrey missed 22-Across.” Miss Cocks smiled at Kerstin. “Maybe tomorrow you can help your friends a little with their work. They seem to need it.”
The next day Kerstin was still sitting patiently in her chair, just as we had left her.
During language arts, when Miss Cocks was explaining the difference between singular and plural nouns, Kerstin answered a question and Reggie Burke muttered loudly, “Kerstin’s got to be the ugliest, dumbest looking girl I’ve ever seen.”
“Don’t you ever talk about our friend that way,” Shanae fiercely burst out. “She can’t help the way she is. Maybe if you had grown up in the middle of some trees, you’d look just like she does.”
Aubrey and I nodded and glared at Reggie. Miss Cocks smiled and added, “That’s right, Reggie, we don’t want anyone in our class speaking unkindly about anyone else.”
He sank down in his seat. “It’s only a dumb paper doll.”
After that, a few more boys tried to make fun of Kerstin, but we stood up for her. We even redid her face so that she’d be prettier. We changed her clothes and said nice things to her. When Bobby Rice pointed out how skinny she was, we decided that from then on, we’d take her to lunch with us. We made her a paper jacket and took her out for recess. We even picked out an imaginary birthday for her that was a week away and posted it on Miss Cocks’s “birthday board.”
The day of Kerstin’s birthday, when Mr. Yost announced students’ birthdays over the intercom, he said, “And we have a new student in Miss Cocks’s class who is having a birthday today. Happy birthday, Kerstin!”
Kerstin was one of the most wonderful things that happened to us in third grade. Each day we thought up something new to do with her, and Miss Cocks and the rest of the class played along with us. Kerstin even won the math game. She was voted the best-behaved student in class. Hers was the best art project.
It seemed as though Kerstin had always been with us. So it was a shock one Monday morning to discover that Kerstin was no longer at her desk.
Miss Cocks motioned for us to follow her outside the classroom. “Kerstin moved away,” Miss Cocks said softly. She held up her hands and shook her head when we started to protest. “It happened rather suddenly.”
“You mean we can’t have her in class anymore?” Shanae asked sadly. “We’ll try not to be so silly.”
Miss Cocks shook her head. “It isn’t that. Kerstin wanted me to tell you all how much she appreciated your special kindness these last few weeks.” She looked at Aubrey and me. “Do you remember in Sharing Time yesterday how I talked about treating others the way Jesus Christ would want us to treat them?”
Aubrey and I nodded.
“Well, I thought of you three girls and Kerstin when I was saying those things. I think that you’ve learned that lesson well.”
Miss Cocks was quiet for a moment. “Kerstin wanted to ask a special favor of you three. I think it’s the same favor Jesus would ask if He were here. There’s another girl coming today. She’s a bit shy. She isn’t from a big, dark forest—she’s very real. Unfortunately she doesn’t live with her mother and dad. She lives in a foster home. Life hasn’t been easy for her. More than anything, she needs a safe, kind, loving place to go to school. Kerstin thought that this was the very best place in the world, and she was sure that no one could find three better friends than Shanae, Aubrey, and Brittany. Of course, I agreed.”
For a long time we were all quiet, truly missing Kerstin, but happy about making a new, real friend. It felt good to look forward to new people, rather than try to avoid them.
Aubrey asked, “What’s her name?”
“Brandy. And if you treat her the way you treated Kerstin, she will think that this is the most wonderful place in the world.”
“I guess we’d better get her desk ready. When will she be here?”
“I think that Mr. Yost will be bringing her in a few minutes.”
“If I were a new student,” Aubrey said, “I don’t think I’d want the principal to escort me to class. I’d want my three new best friends to go to the office and get me.”
Miss Cocks smiled. “I think you’re right. I think that Brandy would want that very much.”
That is how Shanae, Aubrey, and I made our second friend in third grade. And as we brought Brandy to our room, helped her with her assignments, took her to lunch, and protected her from the boys’ teasing, I sometimes thought of the One who is a very special Friend of us all.