“The Trade,” Friend, Nov. 1979, 36
Tom had traded his bicycle for a rabbit, and that’s why he was walking the mile home from Primary. His younger brothers, Ivan and Brent, had ridden ahead on their own bikes. They didn’t think much of Tom’s trade.
Giant cottonwood trees were dropping bright yellow leaves on the country road, and the afternoon sunlight touched them so they glowed like candle flames. Walking isn’t so bad, he thought. And it was a magnificent rabbit, a New Zealand Red doe, half grown. Tom thought about the luxurious softness of her deep, reddish brown fur, her round alert eyes, and her gentleness when he held her. He pictured himself at the county fair next fall, standing proudly beside the rabbit’s pen with a blue or even a purple ribbon on it. He could breed her with Jones’s New Zealand buck and make enough money to buy another bike, a shiny new one. It was a good deal all right, he decided.
Tom unlatched the white picket gate to the yard and detoured around the house to where his rabbit hutches stood under the big willow tree out back. He was trying to think of a good name for the new doe, something elegant. Suddenly he stopped, and his heart seemed to drop into his stomach. The hutch door was open, and the red rabbit was gone!
Tom whirled toward the house when something else caught his eye. Leaning against the hutch was the green bicycle he had given Lester Simpson in exchange for the rabbit. Tom looked at the bike more closely. The frame was bent. He lifted it and turned the back wheel, but it was out of round and stuck. The seat suddenly fell off its post, hitting the ground by Tom’s foot. He dropped the bike and ran for the house.
As he burst into the bright living room, Brent and Ivan jumped up from the couch. Tom could see by their faces that they already knew. “What happened?” he demanded.
“Lester brought the bike back and took the rabbit,” Ivan said.
“I can see that!” Tom said angrily. “If you guys were here, why didn’t you stop him?”
“He’s almost twelve, Tom, and he’s big,” answered Brent, who was ten and small for his age. Ivan, a year younger, was bigger than Brent was.
“I tried to keep him from opening the door,” Ivan said, “but he pushed me against the hutch.” Then he pulled the neck of his striped shirt down and showed Tom the scrape on his shoulder.
Tom felt a little calmer. He knew Ivan would do his best in a situation like that. “What did he say?”
“He told us the bike was no good so he was taking the rabbit back,” Brent reported. “And he said if you try to get it back again, he’s got four guys waiting to beat you up.”
“Lester said he gave you a prize rabbit and got a crummy bike in return,” Ivan explained. “You’re going to fight him, aren’t you? We’ll help you. We can probably get the Jenkins kids to help too.”
At that moment their dad came through the front door. “What’s going on?” he asked, looking at the three serious faces.
Tom told his dad what had happened. “It was a good bike when I traded it to him,” he explained. “I think it was worth as much as the doe.”
“More,” Ivan put in.
“His dad probably ran over it with a tractor or something,” Brent said.
“So what are you going to do about it?” his father asked, sinking into the big rocker.
Mother stepped in from the kitchen. “I don’t want any fights,” she cautioned.
“What do you think I should do, Dad?” Tom asked.
“In a situation like this it’s best to ask yourself what the Savior would do.”
“Did people play dirty tricks on Him, Dad?”
“They were always trying to trip Him up or trick Him into saying something they could get Him for.”
“He didn’t fight them, did He?” Brent asked.
“Not with fists. He fought with His mind and always came up with the right answer.”
All three boys were silent. Tom tried to think of some way he could get back at Lester, but there didn’t seem to be anything he could do. Dad looked at him kindly and said, “Lester Simpson will be ordained a deacon next month. Usually he’s not such a bad kid. Maybe you can think of some way to make him realize what he’s done.” His father stood up and said, “Let’s eat; I’m starved.”
After dinner Tom went outside and sat in his thinking place in the willow tree, the huge branches spread out around him, warm and brown. The yellow leaves hadn’t fallen yet, and the light of the sunset filtered a red glow through them. Below him he could see the tops of his rabbit hutches.
All his rabbits were just regular white rabbits. They furnished his family with meat, and any extra he sold to the neighbors. I finally had a real purebred rabbit, he mused. Now it’s gone. Tom’s fingers could still feel the incredibly thick, soft fur and the sturdy little body beneath it. He thought of the warm, trusting way it snuggled against his stomach. Lester must have taken good care of it. Boy, how I wanted that rabbit!
Suddenly the solution seemed obvious and simple. He would just have to buy the rabbit. Most of the money he earned from his rabbits had to go for school clothes and other necessities, but he did have seven or eight dollars saved up. Dad will probably loan me the rest, he reasoned. After all, it is an investment.
Tom thought about Lester and his tough friends waiting there when he went to buy the rabbit. They’d probably call him “chicken” and “stupid” for not fighting, for buying a rabbit that had already been fairly traded. He guessed he could stand that. His brothers might think the same thing, though, especially Ivan, who was always ready to fight when necessary. Tom’s solution did not seem awfully clever or tricky but it seemed right, and he went to bed feeling fairly easy in his mind.
At breakfast the next morning, Tom told his family of his decision and asked Dad for the loan.
“I think you should fight him,” Ivan said.
“I don’t,” said Mother, “but you’ll have to be prepared for some ridicule.”
“I know,” Tom replied, stuffing toast into his mouth. “I can take it.” But inside he was not altogether sure.
“I think that’s a courageous decision,” Dad said, smiling. Tom felt a lot better.
“I’ll go over right after school,” Tom said, “so I’ll be a little late getting home.”
“Good luck,” Brent encouraged. Tom knew his little brother was relieved to get out of a fight.
Tom saw Lester around school that day, but he did not speak to him nor look at him.
After school, Tom and his brothers went in the direction of Lester’s house. Tom could see Lester up ahead with some friends. From time to time they looked back nervously. At the last corner, Tom told Ivan and Brent to go home. He watched with regret as they rode away on their bikes. The boys up ahead looked back and, seeing Tom alone, laughed and ran toward Lester’s house.
When Tom unlatched the gate, he could see Lester and his four companions standing by the rabbit hutches. Without looking at the others, Tom walked straight up to Lester. “I’ve come to buy that red rabbit,” he said.
Lester looked at his friends in surprise. “You got another broken-down bike to trade me?” He looked at his friends again, and they all laughed.
“No, I have the cash—fifteen dollars. I think that’s a fair price.” Tom looked directly into Lester’s eyes. Lester didn’t laugh this time, but looked down at the ground and scuffed his shoe around in the dirt. “Is it a deal?” Tom pressed.
“Well, Yeah … I guess so,” Lester finally replied.
Tom handed him the money, but Lester still wouldn’t look at him. His friends began to snigger quietly. “Boy, is he dumb!” one whispered.
Tom walked over to the hutch and opened it. He pulled out the New Zealand Red and tucked it up under his shirt. It snuggled deliciously against his skin, and Tom felt happy again. There was nothing they could say that would bother him.
Then they started in, “Guess he was afraid to fight.”
“He always was chicken. His dumb little brothers are too.”
“His daddy gave him the money so he wouldn’t have to fight.”
But now their laughter sounded forced. Lester said nothing, and he didn’t laugh. Tom walked out the gate and started up the road, feeling calm and happy, the rabbit held securely against him.
He was about halfway home when he heard someone running behind him. He turned around and saw Lester coming up the road. Tom stopped and waited and when Lester caught up, they walked along silently together. Finally, Lester spoke, “How come you didn’t fight? Your brothers would have helped you. You could have got some guys.”
Tom smiled at Lester. “I did fight, Les. I won. I got me this fine rabbit.” He patted his shirt. “What did you get?”
They walked in silence for a few more minutes. Then Lester reached into his pocket and pulled out the money. He handed it to Tom. “I guess I didn’t get anything. Here’s your money.” Tom stuffed it into his pants pocket. “My dad ran over the bike with his cattle truck,” Lester explained.
“Figured something like that. Sorry it happened,” Tom said.
“Yeah, well, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
“This is a fine rabbit, Les. You must have taken good care of her. I’d like to get more rabbits from you when I can,” Tom said.
“Sure,” Lester smiled. “Anytime I’ve got something you want. Hey, I better get home. Mom’ll have dinner ready,” he slapped Tom lightly on the back, turned around, and started back to his house.
Tom tucked the rabbit up higher and walked home, smiling in the shadowy autumn afternoon.