“Frank is not retarded!” Maggie defended her older brother.
“That’s what we hear at school.”
Maggie glowered at Rebecca, mulling over the other girls ugly words. She found it difficult to believe the devil should be allowed to attend a junior high Sunday school class.
“Well you heard wrong! How can you hear anything with such a swelled head?” Maggie continued. “He has Down syndrome and he’s smarter than you’ll ever be.”
Rebecca opened her mouth in rebuttal as Mrs. Davies returned with workbooks.
Neither girl acknowledged the other throughout the lesson.
“Maggie, may I see you a moment?” Mrs. Davies asked at the end of class.
“I caught part of your conversation with Becky. Are you ok?”
“Yes ma’am. May I ask you a question, Mrs. Davies?”
“Do you think it’s true, what Rebecca said?”
“No, Maggie, not in the sense Becky tried to imply. The definition of the word is to slow down or delay. Some of Frank’s responses are slower than normal, but that has nothing to do with his intelligence or his value as a person. And I believe Frank and others with special abilities like his are very precious to God. Am I making any sense?”
“Yes, I think so. It hurts to hear other kids talk about him like that, especially Rebecca Thomson!”
Mrs. Davies gave Maggie a hug. “Have you talked to your parents about how situations like this trouble you?”
“Some, but…, I think that maybe it’s best they don’t know how others talk. I don’t want them to hurt like I do.”
“I’ll bet you will find they already know just how you feel and it can really help to talk about it.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Davies.”
After church their parents took Maggie and Frank out for lunch. Frank pretended to be interested in the menu, trying to hide his mischievous grin. Maggie knew what was up and played along pretending to look out the window. Suddenly a straw wrapper flew across the table and stuck in her hair. Maggie jumped and acted surprised. “Frank you naughty boy!” She pointed her finger and feigned a scolding as everyone laughed out loud.
On the drive home Maggie asked Frank if things other kids said ever upset him.
“No-wuh. Weh-uhl sumbtimes.”
“Do you hate them?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“You don’t know what hate means?”
Frank shook his head no.
“I sometimes wish I didn’t.” Maggie pondered.
Later Maggie was teaching Frank how to do the hula-hoop when Rebecca approached on her bicycle. She snubbed her nose when she noticed them. Maggie and Frank exchanged glances and began to laugh.
Rebecca veered off the sidewalk and into the street as a minivan appeared around the corner.
Before anyone knew what happened Frank ran into the path of the vehicle waving his arms, shouting for it to stop.
Rebecca screamed as her bike hit the curb and landed her on the pavement.
The driver swerved missing Rebecca by inches, but could not avoid Frank.
As the paramedics loaded Frank onto the stretcher Rebecca, scratched and bruised but not broken, pressed passed Maggie and her mother.
“Frank.” She said between sobs. “I am so sorry for the things I’ve said.”
“Iss ok.” He gave her the ok sign then closed his eyes for a moment. “Jehsus jus tode me to teh-uhl you that he fohgives you.” Frank then blushed with his comical smile and covered his face with the hand not strapped to an IV. “Me too.”
For a brief moment everyone stopped sniveling to chuckle at Frank’s innocent antics.
During the next Sunday’s service pastor Meeks asked Maggie and her parents to come forward then addressed the congregation.
“Today we are honoring a very brave young man who without concern for himself placed his own life in harms way to protect that of another. I have never known Frank Matthews to have a malicious notion toward another person, always seeing a friend in everyone he met, always at peace with himself and his role in this life. We should all strive to be more like Frank.” After a brief silence he continued, “The mayor is with us today to present this Medal of Commendation.”
Everyone stood and applauded.
Maggie, her mother and father stood proud with moist faces as Rebecca wheeled in Frank, leg in a cast and grinning from ear to ear, to receive his reward.
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