The morning sun was boiling up over the low, dry hills as Elliot trudged up the narrow dirt road. Dangling from his belt was a drawstring bag of marbles and a leather bag holding a thermos.
He left the road and slid down the side of a 10-foot-deep creek bed that was, for the most part, dry. He had promised himself and a hundred or so tadpoles trapped in two puddles that he would move them to deeper water.
He looked at the watch he had received on his 10th birthday the week before. It was barely nine o’clock, and he had until noon before he had to be home. Elliot set about herding the tadpoles into the lid of his thermos and then poured the squiggly contents into the small jug. He transported them up the creek to a deeper pool protected from the sun. He emptied the pollywogs and went back for another batch.
When he finished, he headed back to the road and saw a red-haired boy standing next to an overturned bike stuck in a tangle of brushwood. The boy pulled at the bicycle, whimpering. His pant leg was torn, his right knee was bleeding, and his face was smeared with dirt and tears.
Elliot approached the boy. “I’m Elliot.”
“I’m Rusty,” the boy said with a frown.
“What happened?” Elliot asked.
Rusty explained that he had been out riding his bike when three boys on bicycles forced him off the road. “They teased me and made fun of my red hair and freckles.”
Elliot was shocked. “Why would they want to do that?”
Rusty shrugged and sighed. His eyes welled up and he looked away, embarrassed. “Seems like kids are always doing that kind of stuff to me. I’m so used to it I don’t wonder why anymore. Maybe this time it’s because I’m a new kid. Or … just because. One time at another school, I was in the lunch line. A kid said, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and got in front of me. Maybe some kids get picked on because they are nobodies and that’s just the way it is.”
“No!” Elliot said. “You are somebody. You’re a child of God, and that makes you very important.” Rusty looked confused, so Elliot told him about the Savior, the plan of salvation, and the importance of each soul. Elliot talked easily about the things he knew were true.
“How do you know all that stuff?” Rusty asked.
“I learned it in church and from my parents,” Elliot said. Rusty looked thoughtful.
Elliot opened up his bag and held out a big shooter-sized marble. “Here, I want to give you this.”
Rusty held it up to the light. It was dark red and clear. “It’s almost the same color as my hair!” Rusty said. “I … I can’t take this. It’s yours, and—”
“Not anymore.” Elliot smiled. “I just gave it to you. Besides, I have another just like it.”
Rusty eyed Elliot with confusion. “Why do you want me to have it?”
Elliot’s smile got bigger. “So you’ll always remember that red is a special color. To me, red is the color of love. My dad gives my mom red roses. And red can remind you that Jesus bled in the Garden of Gethsemane for us.”
A smile slowly pushed its way across Rusty’s dirt- and tear-stained face. Elliot helped untangle Rusty’s bike from the brushwood, then walked home with him. Rusty lived in a neighborhood close to Elliot’s, and they decided to play together soon.
After saying good-bye to his new friend, Elliot glanced at his watch. He was 45 minutes late getting home! He hadn’t realized the time had gone so quickly.
Entering his house, Elliot saw his mother talking on the phone. There were tears in her eyes. He felt bad; he must have worried her by being so late. He started to apologize, but she put a quieting finger to her lips, finished her conversation, and hung up the phone.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I stopped to help some tadpoles, and then a boy named Rusty—”
His mother sat him down and knelt to his level. “That was Rusty’s mother.”
“Was she upset?” Elliot blurted. “I talked to Rusty about the Church and the plan of salvation and stuff. I’m sorry, Mom. I guess I shouldn’t have.”
Elliot’s mother shook her head no. “You didn’t do anything wrong, honey. You didn’t say or do anything the Savior wouldn’t have done. Rusty’s mother told me how you helped her son. She said she has never heard him talk so happily. You made a big difference in his life—like you do in ours.”