That weekend Petey spent all of his spare time doing the extra chores. In addition to the ones his Dad had come up with he also cleaned the dirt of the window sills and tightened all of the faucet knobs for his mother. Noah even let Petey clean his room for $2, though they had to keep that transaction a secret from their mom. Bit by bit his wallet got fatter until at last he had $13.
“That should do it,” he said as he wiped the sweat from his brow late that evening.
The next day Noah agreed to walk Petey to the sporting goods store so that he could get the new football.
“So you think this is the best thing, huh?” Noah asked.
“I guess? Like you said, it’s bad that Brad’s football got popped, so I think it makes sense to just do something to make it better.”
“Yeah, but are you doing it to make him happy or just to make him like you again?”
“He’s not ever going to like me if he isn’t happy.”
“He won’t? Cuz that sounds like a pretty terrible friendship then.”
“I’m just saying what it sounds like,” Noah shrugged. “You go ahead and do what you think is best.”
Petey did go ahead and he did buy the football as planned…but he couldn’t get Noah’s words out of his head. It had hit on something he had already been feeling, but hadn’t been able to put words to. There just was something wrong in the idea of giving a football to Brad so that he would treat him decently.
“I don’t want to just give Brad stuff to make him be my friend,” he muttered to himself on the swing at recess. “I want him to already be my friend first.”
“Nothing Susan. Hey, have you seen Brad?”
“I think he’s trying to get the ducks to come through the fence.”
Susan was right. There was a patch in the fence around the field where the chainlink had been snagged by a lawnmower once and twisted, resulting in a small hole. And it just so happened that this hole was right beside the canal and sometimes ducks would go swimming past it. Everyone remembered that time immemorial when Diego had coaxed one of those ducks through the hole and it had gone squawking and flapping across the entire field, chasing down whoever showed the most fear! It was many students’ greatest wish to recreate that legendary moment, even though this had been expressly forbidden by the Principal, but no one had ever managed it.
Brad was crouched down at the hole right now, poking pieces of bread through it and then backing away so as to not startle his prey. As Petey approached he saw that there were two ducks enjoying a little meal of Brad’s crumbs just outside of the fence, but they were stubbornly ignoring the trail he had also laid out through to the other side. As soon as Petey got within sight the ducks quacked in offense and scuttled down back into the canal.
“Hey Brad,” Petey said.
“Oh great, you scared them off.”
“They weren’t coming through anyway.”
“Gee…thanks. What are you even doing here, Petey?”
“I want to know what it’s going to take so we can be friends again.”
“Well, you broke my football. So I guess you get me a new one of those,” Brad sneered sarcastically and Petey’s heart dropped a level. He definitely couldn’t give him the new football now.
“Friendship shouldn’t be about just giving each other things,” Petey stated flatly. “That’s just selfish.”
“No, it should be about wrecking each other’s stuff and then pretending that doesn’t matter.”
Petey was taken aback. Once again everything made so much sense in his head right up until the moment he actually tried to say the words out loud. Brad just wasn’t responding the way that he was supposed to!
“No, it matters. That’s why I’m really sorry that that happened. I really am.”
Brad squinted his eyes in an accusing stare and spoke in a heavy whisper. “Did you know, Petey, that that’s the first time you’ve actually said you’re sorry?”
“In all this time you haven’t said sorry even once until now.”
“I–no, that’s not true. I said sorry already!”
Brad shook his head. “You just told me over and over that it wasn’t your fault.”
Petey couldn’t believe what he was hearing…but at the same time he also couldn’t remember a specific moment where he had definitely said that he was sorry. Was it possible?
“I–” Petey began, but no other words came to finish the thought.
“Listen Petey, I don’t hate you,” Brad sighed. “But I just don’t think I want to be friends anymore. Forget about the football.”
“So did you give it to him?” Noah said over his shoulder as he heard the door to his bedroom click shut.
“No…” Petey said slowly. “Instead we just fought some more.”
“I’m sorry, man. Are you sure this friendship is working?”
“You think it would be better to just stop being friends with my best friend?” Petey’s voice was hurt. “Just run away like that.”
Noah sighed and put down the controller to the Super Nintendo. “No, probably not. You two have been buddies since forever. So no, I don’t think you should just throw that away. Being best friends is hard work sometimes. It takes real effort.”
“Yeah…but Brad’s all done. He told me he doesn’t want to be friends anymore.”
“Ahh,” Noah rubbed the back of his head. “That’s rough, little bro. I’m sorry.”
Those last two words made Petey wince.
“And he also pointed out that I never told him I was sorry when I broke his football. I just kept talking about how it wasn’t my fault.”
“Well I’m sure you were scared right then.”
“What kind of friend am I if I don’t even apologize?”
“You still haven’t?”
“No, I did.”
“When he told you that you hadn’t?”
“No, before that.”
“So I guess you are the kind of friend who apologizes, then. Maybe a little late, but if I’m hearing you right then you did actually apologize all on your own.”
“Well…yeah. But I still don’t blame him for being upset. Maybe he’s been too much of a jerk about it…but I don’t think I did everything right either.”
A long pause followed, after which Petey gave himself a little shake.
“Well,” he said, “I just wanted to talk I guess.”
“Yeah, thank you for talking to me about it.”
That night Petey wasn’t able to fall asleep. His mind turned matters over and over as he lay on his pillow until his pillow started to feel too hot and he sat up. A few moments later his dad walked past his open door and happened to notice Petey sitting up.
“Hey bud, everything alright?”
Petey shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Petey’s dad moved into the room and sat at the corner of the bed.
“What’s going on?”
“Brad and I had a fight. I don’t really want to talk about the whole thing again, though. I’ve been talking about it a lot already.”
“And thinking about it a lot.”
“Yeah. And I guess that now I don’t know what to do about it anymore.”
“Yeah. I keep thinking about things I could do…but I’ve already tried to do things the right way a bunch of times and it never works out how I thought it would.”
“Sure, sure. Do you mind if I offer a piece of corny, fatherly advice?”
“Don’t tie yourself in knots trying to do things the right way. Just do what’s right. Then, after that, it doesn’t matter what happens.”
“Does that make sense?”
“Yeah…I think so. Thanks, Dad.”
“No problem. Try and get some sleep.”
The next day Petey knew exactly what he was going to do. He didn’t try to talk to Brad at school, though, he wanted to have a conversation when there wouldn’t be any distractions. Instead he took his backpack with him to the park after school, sat on the swings, and waited for Brad to show up. Sure enough, he soon saw Brad walking across the field like he did on most days. Petey rushed down the hill and onto the field, backpack swinging from his shoulder.
“Brad!” he called out as he came near.
Brad shook his head in a longsuffering way. “Petey, no,” he said. “Please stop talking to me. I’m not interested.”
“I will, alright. I’ll stop talking to you if that’s what you want. I just want to say one last thing and that’ll be it.”
Brad sighed. “Okay…well what is it?”
“I know you don’t want to be friends anymore and I’m not going to try to make you change your mind, but I do think that that’s a mistake. It’s okay to be upset, but I think it’s wrong to stop being friends just like that.”
Brad shrugged. “Still not interested.”
“Okay,” Petey said bracingly. “That’s alright. And even though you don’t want to be friends, I want you to know that I really am sorry about what happened. It really was an accident, but that doesn’t change that you lost your football. And I don’t think it’s fair for you to not have your football anymore…” Petey reached into his bag “so here’s your replacement. I bought it with my own money and everything. Now things are back to how they were.”
Petey handed the ball to Brad who stared back at him in stunned silence.
“Okay,” Petey exhaled deeply. “That was it, I’m done now.” And with that he slung his backpack over his shoulder, turned around, and walked away.
He made it nearly thirty feet before Brad called out.
“Hey you, get back here!”
Petey turned around and saw that Brad was grinning sheepishly.
“What?” Petey asked.
“Hey look, Pete,” Brad walked forward until the two boys were near again. “Look I know I’ve been being a jerk about all this. I didn’t feel good about it…but I did it anyway. I’m sorry.”
“So–uh–I’d like to be friends again if you’ll allow it. And…here, keep your ball,” he held the football out again but Petey didn’t take it.
“That’s for you,” Petey insisted.
“Oh come on, I can’t take it,” Brad protested. “You bought it with your own money you said.”
“Yeah, to give it to you.”
“But then…if I take it…that means I’m being your friend just because you gave it to me. And I really don’t mean that, Petey. I really do want to be your friend without this.”
Petey gave that one a lot of thought. The fact was he didn’t want their friendship to be repaired just because he had bought something for Brad either. But he also didn’t want to end up getting a new football out of all this, that felt wrong, too.
“Well I don’t want it,” he said flatly.
Brad looked down at the football and furrowed his brow in deep thought. Suddenly he looked back up with a big smile. “Hey wait…I’ve got an idea!”
“Ready?” Brad asked ten minutes later. He had run back to his home and retrieved two screwdrivers which the two boys were now wielding side-by-side.
“Ready!” Petey affirmed.
The two boys swung their screwdrivers down as hard as they could, puncturing the new football at each end! It did not deflate with a sad whistle like the last one had, though, it ruptured all at once with a huge BOOM! Each of the boys fell backwards laughing.
“Holy cow, that scared me!” Petey giggled.
“My heart’s racing!” Brad added.
They lay there laughing another minute longer, getting out all of their frustration and sadness together. When at last they quieted down they sat back up and looked at the flat pancake that had once been a football. Brad picked it up, flung it into the nearest trash can, and pocketed his screwdriver.
“C’mon buddy,” he said, extending a hand. “Let’s go play.”
Petey took the hand and let Brad pull him to his feet. “Sounds good,” he said, and the two friends walked off, arm-in-arm.
On Monday I wrote how characters that depart from each another at the end of one scene should not reunite at the start of the next. And if you look through every scene in this story I followed that guidance from start to finish. There are never two scenes of the exact same characters back-to-back.
I also tried to maintain an even balance between the appearance of each character. Petey is the star and appears in each scene. Noah and Brad are the main supporting characte4rs, and they each get a pretty equal number of scenes. Secondary supporting scenes are Petey’s dad and mom, who also get a pretty equal number of scenes in the story. This setup allowed me to bounce back and forth between the main thread with Brad and the other main thread with Noah, but also to break up those threads with small asides to his parents so that it wouldn’t feel like Petey was just ping-ponging back and forth the whole time.
One of the benefits of this approach was how it provides credence to Brad’s character development, which primarily occurs offstage. In the case of Petey, we see him grappling with his problem firsthand. We hear all the conversations he has about it and the process that leads him to his final solution. But Brad has been going through his own process as well, and we don’t actually see that firsthand. I imply it at a couple times, such as when they met at the school. Before then Brad had only been insulting and hostile, but here he had softened up enough to admit that he didn’t hate Petey. Then there is that moment at the end where he says:
Look I know I've been being a jerk about all this. I didn't feel good about it...but I did it anyway. I'm sorry.
So yes, Brad has developed as a character, and we’re able to believe in it because of the gaps between each of the boys’ encounters. Those gaps suggest that enough time has passed for him to have changed his mind. If those same changes had been shown in back-to-back scenes it would have felt too abrupt and unbelievable.
So now I have written three stories in my latest batch, and there is a common theme in them that I want to shine a light on. That theme is three simple words: Children, conflict, and play. I have explored the intersection of those three ideas in various ways, and will explore one more interpretation of them before I conclude this series. Come back on Monday as I explain this further.