97: What Are Friends For?

97: What Are Friends For?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

What Are Friends For?

A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked.

~Author Unknown

Being Ted’s best friend is not something I would have wished for! Somehow, I ended up being best friend to the meanest bully in sixth grade. Not only that, I found myself standing up for him when he was accused of doing something I knew he didn’t do.

Surviving sixth grade was a matter of keeping your head low and pretending that you didn’t exist. But you couldn’t be invisible all the time, like when the teacher called on you in class, or when you somehow ended up alone in the hallway with one other person: the biggest bully in sixth grade.

Ted was a loner, but that was because other kids just naturally got out of his way. Everybody dispersed when they saw Ted shamble out of his math class. I had my head stuck inside my locker and didn’t hear the sudden scuffling of sneakers that signaled a mass migration away from Ted. By the time I looked up, he was standing right over me.

Ted’s eyes were blue, and when he glared at me, I felt like I was about to be tossed overboard into a stormy sea that was going to pound me. He grabbed the scruff of my shirt and hauled me to my feet.

“You’re in my way, flyweight.”

I looked up and down the hallway. It was deserted. I looked back at Ted and swallowed something hard. “S-sorry. I didn’t hear you coming.”

“Well, here I am,” he said, shaking me. “What’re you gonna do about it?”

“F-faint dead away?” I stuttered.

Then Ted did something I’d never seen him do before. He laughed. His face twisted into an expression that didn’t look normal for him and he let out a loud, long laugh. He set me back down on the floor.

“Man, you beat everything, flyweight. Faint dead away?” He laughed again and swaggered down the hallway into his next class.

The next day I decided I wasn’t going to take any chances. At lunchtime I ate under my table. In class I hid behind a tower of books. When it was time to go home I beat everyone else out the door. I felt like I was home free.

Then I ran smack into Ted. I’d taken a shortcut through the edge of the woods to get to my house and didn’t see him squatting down in the tall grass. He reached out and grabbed hold of my arm. I thought he was going to twist it and make me beg for mercy, but instead he pointed to a spot in the grass. I looked and saw a baby deer with its tiny legs curled around it.

“Don’t move, flyweight,” Ted whispered. “You’ll scare it off.” He watched the deer. “I figure its mom is somewhere close by.”

I saw the fawn flick its ears. I looked at Ted, and the expression on his face was different. He wasn’t mad, and he wasn’t angry. He had a soft expression in his eyes. That softness turned to stone when he saw me watching him.

“You say anything to anyone and I’ll pound you into hamburger,” he snarled.

I should have just nodded, but something made me say what I never should have said. “It’s cool, Ted. I like to watch deer and raccoons and stuff, too.”

He looked at me, and the stoniness left his eyes. He pointed at the fawn. “This one’s a girl. She was born in the early spring. Her mom moves her a lot.”

“What does a fawn eat?” I asked.

Ted’s whole face brightened up. I sat and listened while he told me all about baby deer, and what the birds around us were called, and lots of other stuff. I sat with my mouth open while he talked and grew excited about a dozen things. Finally he stopped talking and looked at me.

“You’re a good listener, flyweight.” Then he crawled away from me through the grass, being careful not to scare the deer.

Over the next few weeks we ran into each other once in a while. Ted was still a bully, but whenever there was no one else around, he’d tell me about some animal or bird he’d seen out in the woods. It was strange being friends with him. I didn’t know I was going to have to make one of the hardest decisions of my life because of that friendship.

Monday morning I was on my way to school when I heard a noise come from the back of the feed and grain store. The next moment I saw Ted rush out with a sack of feed. He saw me but kept running, and I stood there wondering what I should do. Since I was late, I continued on my way to school, hoping I could figure things out.

Later that day I was out in the field running laps past the bleachers. Ted was hanging out in a corner of the school building when all of a sudden the principal and a couple of policemen came out and walked over to where Ted was standing. I ran up to the gathering crowd to see what was up.

“Come on, Ted,” the principal was saying. “You know you stole those trophies from the gym this morning. Someone said they saw you in there around eight o’clock.”

Ted scowled at both him and the cops. “I didn’t do nothing.”

One policeman reached out to take hold of Ted when I remembered what happened that morning. I stepped up to the principal and said, “I saw Ted taking a sack of grain from the feed store around eight this morning. He couldn’t have taken the trophies.”

One of the policemen turned to Ted. “Is that true?”

Ted never lost his scowl, but he finally said, “Yeah, I took it. I needed the grain for a fawn that lost its mother to a hunter. I’m trying to raise it. I didn’t have enough money, but I left what I had in the grain room.”

The police talked a while and finally let Ted go. The principal shook his head and told Ted to talk to the feed store owner after school. Later we learned that it was a student who was sore about being cut from the football team who took the trophies. After the police left, Ted let out a long sigh.

“You ratted me out, flyweight,” he said, his eyes unreadable.

I nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want you go to jail for something you didn’t do.”

He scratched his head. “No one’s ever done that for me before.”

“You’re my friend,” I told him.

Ted didn’t say anything for a long time. When he finally did speak again, he said, “I have to fix things with the feed store owner, but after that, flyweight, you want to give me a hand trying to take care of a wild fawn?”

I smiled. “What are friends for?”

~John P. Buentello

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