“Cool!” Wes exclaimed as he surveyed James’ science fair exhibit. In front his board with information and drawings about eyes, James had displayed a pair of iridescent purple-brown cow eyes in empty butter tubs. One was intact; the other had been dissected with the parts labeled.
“Where’d you get the eyes?” Wes asked.
“Our neighbor, Ed Johnson, had a steer slaughtered,” James replied. “When we went to the butcher shop, the guy yelled out, ‘The kid’s here for Ed’s eyes!’”
Wes gazed down at the butter tubs. “Glad to meet you, Ed!”
Savannah was standing right behind Wes. “What is that gooey thing?”
“The vitreous humor,” replied James. “It’s the liquid from inside the eye. Want to touch it?” he offered.
“No! That’s disgusting! Cutting up animal eyes isn’t much of a project, is it?” Her lip curled as she read his display. “Your drawings look like a 2nd grader did them. Did you actually use crayon?” With a final condescending glance, she moved on.
“Don’t pay attention to her,” Wes said. “She’s stuck-up. Her dad did her project for her anyway—he had to come in and help her set it up.
James’ face was burning from her insults. But he could see why she didn’t think his project was so great. Her information and diagrams about the human heart looked like they came straight out of a textbook. She also had a model of a heart—it almost looked real. His project did look stupid in comparison.
“James?” His teacher was calling him. “The principal wanted to see the exhibits. Could you go get him?”
“Sure.” James was glad to get away.
“What is your project about, James?” Mr. Price asked, as they headed back toward the gym.
“Eyes,” mumbled James.
“I’d like to see it,” Mr. Price said.
“Mine’s not very good. But some of the others are—you’ll enjoy them.”
As they entered the gym, they heard a commotion. “Who put that dirty thing in my display!” Savannah shrieked. “My project is ruined!”
Savannah’s heart model had been taken apart and the pieces were laid out across her booth. At one side was the intact cow eye, resting on the corner of a note that said, “Can you put it back together? Ed is watching you!”
Mr. Price carefully picked up the eye and turned to James. “Is this yours?”
“Yes, sir.” James plunked the sticky eye back in its tub.
“He’s jealous because his project isn’t as good as mine,” Savannah accused. “I just turned away for a second, and he ruined it!” Across the aisle, James noticed that Wes was examining the wall, with a funny little smile hovering on his face.
“I don’t believe James is the culprit,” reasoned Mr. Price. “He’s been with me for the last 15 minutes. Besides, there’s no harm done. Just put your model back together.”
“I don’t remember how,” Savannah huffed. “This is a complicated model.”
“You built it, didn’t you?”
“Well . . . yes, but my dad helped me a lot, and he’s the one who really knows how it goes together.”
“I see,” said Mr. Price. “James, while Savannah is reassembling her model, could you show me your exhibit?”
Dread filled James’ shoes like lead weights, but he showed the principal to his booth.
“You put a lot of work into this. Can you tell me about it?” Mr. Price listened carefully as James explained the functions of the various parts of the eye.
“James, your research is very thorough. You’ve done a fine job. Why did you tell me it wasn’t very good?”
“It looks crummy compared to Savannah’s,” James admitted.
“Listen, James. You did your own work, and you worked hard. That kind of honesty is rare these days. Too many people take the easy way out and cheat if they don’t think they’ll get caught. A person of character, on the other hand, does what is right just because it’s right.” The principal patted James’ shoulder. “I’m proud of you.”
James felt a warm glow swelling inside him. His project was good! He listened to Savannah muttering as she struggled to put the model back together, and thought he saw a twinkle in the purple depths of Ed’s eye.