A lesson in working for what you want. Children's.
Andrew bolted upright in his wooden desk. There was a prize? For something he loved to do? He was trying to listen to Ms. Peterson, but the kids were getting rowdy.
"Shhhh!" he exclaimed. "I want to hear this."
"All you have to do is turn in your best drawing, and a prize will be given to the top three artists," she was saying.
What was first place going to get? Andrew wondered. He rarely got to have anything new. His father was disabled, and for a ten-year-old, that meant missing out on a lot.
Ms. Peterson went on to say, "The grand prize is a brand new bicycle. The second place winner..."
Andrew stopped listening at that point. He didn't care what the second, or third place winners would receive. He wanted that bike! The one he had now was old and rusty. His pale, oval face reddened whenever he rode it.
Mom said I have talent in art. Maybe I could win this thing, he thought as Ms. Peterson handed out a paper describing the contest in detail.
Max Runyon was lounging across from him. Andrew's excitement was obvious.
"Think you can draw, Andy boy?" he asked, smirking. "I'll make a deal with you. When I win, I'll give you my old bike. You won't even need to peddle. You could just flap those Dumbo ears of yours." He began to laugh.
Andrew self-consciously pushed his ears against his head. He averted his blue eyes and ignored Max.
When he got to his small, two-bedroom house, Andrew looked at the description of the contest. It was due the next day! Frantic, he ran to his room and picked the picture he thought was the best. Then he asked his Mom's opinion.
"I think you chose the perfect sketch, Andrew. Maybe you could add a little color, though," she said.
It was a drawing of Spiderman trapping Doc Oc with his web.
"Mom, my blue and red pencils are almost gone. I'll never be able to color all of this without some new ones."
His mother sighed. Andrew knew what was on her mind. Money. How were they going to buy new pencils?
He got started with the colors he did have. As he was coloring the buildings in the background, a thought occurred to him. Perhaps Mr. Sharp at the drugstore would let him sweep the floor to earn the pencils. He told his mother of his plan.
"Good idea, honey. Why don't you go down and ask him?"
On his way to the store, he ran into Max.
"Where are you off to on that rickety bike, Dumbo?" he asked.
"None of your business, Max. Leave me alone," Andrew replied, wrapping his thin fingers tightly around the handlebars.
"Not so fast," said Max, as he jammed a stick between the spokes of Andrew's bike. Andrew was cast onto the sidewalk. He wished he had been wearing jeans. His knees dripped with blood, and the heels of his hands were scraped raw.
He carefully removed the stick from his spoke, tossed his blonde bangs out of his face, and hopped back onto his bike. The store was only a few blocks further.
Mr. Sharp's bushy, white eyebrows crinkled as he saw Andrew's bloodied knees. He asked, "What happened to you, son?"
"I fell off my bike," he said casually. "I have a favor to ask, Mr. Sharp."
He told the store's owner about the contest, and was happy that Mr. Sharp agreed to let him sweep the floor for the pencils. While he was in the stationary aisle, Andrew heard that arrogant voice again.
"Hey, Dumbo. You gotta work to pay your family's bills?" Max laughed, and strolled over to the art supplies.
Just then, Andrew saw something terrible. Max was putting colored pencils down the front of his pants! He couldn't say anything. He couldn't do anything. He just stared. He was stealing! Not only was it against the law, but it was just wrong! What if Mr. Sharp were to think that he took the extra pencils?
Andrew didn't know what to do. Max was a big, mean kid. If he told, he would definitely get a beating. But if he didn't, Mr. Sharp would surely think that Andrew was the thief.
He decided to stay out of it. He finished the floor, and picked out his supplies.
"Thank you, Mr. Sharp," he said softly.
When he got home, he vowed to do his absolute best on this picture. No shoplifter was going to get the best of him! He closed the door to his room, so he wouldn't be disturbed.
The next morning, Ms. Peterson asked Andrew to collect the entries for the contest. She said the winners would be announced that afternoon.
Midway through the morning, Mr. Sharp appeared at Andrew's classroom door. He spoke with Ms. Peterson outside in the hallway, and then he was gone. Andrew's anxiety worsened. What is Mr. Sharp doing at my school? Oh, no. He thinks I did it, he thought.
That afternoon, the kids assembled in the cafeteria. Andrew was extremely nervous. His drawing was more detailed than most of the other drawings he had seen, but what had Mr. Sharp said?
Everyone settled down when the art teacher, Mr. Hansen, began to speak.
"Good afternoon, everyone," he said and smiled. "I have the privilege of announcing the winners of the art contest."
Andrew ran a trembling hand through his hair. He glanced around the room. He tapped his foot. He bit his nails. He couldn't wait to find out who had won.
"But, before I go on, Ms. Peterson has a word to say," said Mr. Hansen, and handed her the microphone.
She thanked Mr. Hansen and said to the children, "Integrity. It means to stand by a code of values. It came to my attention this morning that two things happened yesterday in relation to this contest.
"One of the things was very admirable. We can all learn from an example set by one of our contestants, and that is to work for what you need. The other," she frowned, "was unlawful. Someone stole something to get ahead in the contest." She looked around as the room stirred with confusion.
"Our first place winner is hereby disqualified for criminal misconduct. You know who you are. Stealing is against the law, and will not be tolerated. Therefore, the second place winner will be moved into first place, and will receive the grand prize."
Andrew immediately knew that Mr. Sharp had spoken to Ms. Peterson about the pencils. That's why he was there that morning! Ms. Peterson gave the microphone back to Mr. Hansen.
He began to announce the winners. Third: Betsy Moorhead. Second: Michael Jefferson.
Andrew was on the edge of his seat, gripping the chair in front of him.
"And the grand prize in the drawing contest, not only for the artwork itself, but for the artist showing great integrity, goes to...Andrew McPherson!"
Andrew leapt from his seat, and raised his fist in the air. "Yeah!" he exclaimed. He had won! Now he had a brand new bike! He looked over at Max, whose green eyes were blazing.
"I don't work to pay my family's bills," he said to Max, "but I work when I want something that I can't buy." And with that, he went up to claim his prize.