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Good Boy and the Gumdrops

It wasn’t because Daniel was hungry that he wanted those gumdrops. Great-Aunt Irma had served them dinner only an hour before, and Aunt Irma could certainly cook. No, it wasn’t because he didn’t feel full enough, but because he wanted what he couldn’t have. Daniel sat on the brown leather chair and wondered how each of the colorful drops in the candy dish would taste.

“It’s been nearly eight years since Annie married and I came out and saw you folks… and, my! how your children have grown, Leah.” Daniel was tired of hearing Aunt Irma and Mom talk. Dad had gone to town with Chad and Uncle Frank, and how he wished he had escaped the little apartment then! His feet itched to kick and run the more he tried to keep them still.

Looking around the small living room, Daniel imagined he was in a space ship heading for Pluto. It seemed like the trip took forever. The second hand of the coo-coo clock on the wall ticked round and round, just like Aunt Irma’s voice. “Why, Danny was just walking then—I do remember how he got chocolate pudding all over his round, little face. He did so amuse us!” Her laugh was like a swinging dinner bell, or maybe more like a recording of “Jingle Bells” through the space ship’s crackling radio. Daniel’s lips twitched in a little smile and he stared at the gray tiles on the ceiling.

“You really must admit they are a flock of angels,” Aunt Irma said, peering through her glasses at his three sisters sitting politely on the couch. Daniel glanced at his mother and saw her open her mouth to speak, but the clicking voice continued. “And I can’t believe this is little Danny all grown up. My, my! What sweet children; they are all so well-behaved! You know Mark and Annie’s boy? Well, he’s become quite a little tyrant.”

Daniel exchanged an amused grin with Rosie. She was stitching on her sampler and Irene was cutting out paper dolls for Emma. He envied them—why hadn’t Mom let him bring his book in to read? How much longer would they have to keep talking? He eyed the gumdrops again.

Mom had said they shouldn’t have any candy when Aunt Irma had offered it after dinner. Why did she have to say that, especially when it was his favorite kind? The little glass dish was piled high with sugar-coated drops of red, orange, green and yellow. It was the round, orange ones that he wanted most of all. He could count five of them from where he sat.

“It may be awhile before the men get back,” Mom said. “Do you mind if I put Kyle down for his nap?” She had been rocking him so long that Daniel could see he was nearly asleep.

“Oh, of course—I suppose he wouldn’t fall off the guest bed? Come along to the bedroom and I’ll get a quilt.” In short, quick steps Aunt Irma led the way down the hall. Daniel watched them disappear into a bedroom and then glanced at his sisters. They were murmuring about something in a picture album and didn’t look up.

Daniel could easily reach the candy bowl sitting on the lamp-stand. Quietly he picked out three orange gumdrops and slipped them into his pocket. He’d have to wait until later to eat them—later when he was alone and the others wouldn’t see. Daniel was sitting up straight and looking at a tourist guide when Aunt Irma and Mom returned a few minutes later.

“Children, would you like to go down to the park together?” Mom suggested. “Aunt Irma said that there is one only a few blocks away and it would be nice for you to run around a little. Just don’t ruin your good clothes.” Irene got the directions, and soon they were on their way.

It was a bother to wait for Emma’s short steps, so Daniel dashed on ahead until he came to the corner of the block. Ha! I’ll hide in the hedge and scare them when they come up, he thought. Sitting down in a little hollow, Daniel pulled out a gumdrop and popped it into his mouth. It tasted even better than he imagined, and so he ate the other two as well. The girls are such slowpokes, not even halfway down the street yet, Daniel murmured with disgust as he peeked out of his hiding place. Ah, there’s an idea! If I climb up that little tree I can pretend I’m a cougar and jump on them.

It was when he had stepped on the second branch that Daniel realized he had made a mistake. With a low creak the branch snapped and in less than a second he found himself on the ground, with a scraped arm and grass-stains on both knees. The little tree fared worse: the lowest branch was hanging from a few splintered pieces of wood. Daniel scrambled to his feet and scooted back into the hedge.

The park was small and shady with a swing set, but Daniel’s knees were sore and his arm hurt. He sat down on a bench near a goldfish pond. “Come on, Daniel!” Rosie called from a swing. “Let’s go on the teeter-totter together.” Daniel didn’t want to do that either. Irene would see the grass-stains and Rosie would want to know what happened.

“I don’t want to right now,” he said loudly. Then he looked up to see an elderly man approaching the pool. “But I’ll come in a few minutes,” he finished quickly, and pretended to be watching the fish intently. The man stopped beside him and Daniel got up, looking around to see where the girls were.

“Thank you for the seat,” the man said in a friendly voice. “You seem to be a good, well-behaved boy. Do you live around here?”

“No-o, we’re visiting some relatives,” Daniel said hesitantly. He turned to leave, but the man continued.

“Well, you must be having fun, from the looks of those knees.” The man chuckled. “I suppose those are your sisters over there? You hardly see such nicely dressed girls these days.”

“Uh-hmm,” Daniel murmured, and made his escape. If Irene did notice his pants, he’d just say he’d fallen down. No need to tell how it had happened.

“Oh, dear child, what a nasty scrape!” Aunt Irma exclaimed, when Daniel told Mother about falling down. “You’re such a brave good boy. I’ll look in the Band-Aid box for something to put on it.” Mom didn’t seem so impressed.

“Daniel, please change your pants so that those can be cleaned. I’ll get the stain-remover and a scrub brush for you to use.” Daniel felt like protesting: he had overheard Uncle Frank talk about taking a hike down to the lake before supper; but Aunt Irma was returning. If he complained she would probably lose her good opinion of him.

But Daniel knew he wasn’t the good boy he pretended to be. As he stood by the bathroom sink rubbing the stubborn stains, he grumbled to himself. Why can the others be so good and I get into all the trouble? Deep down he knew why—he had disobeyed, and acting like a “good boy” wasn’t good enough.