Friday, August 30, 2013

"Honestly!" a Middle-Grade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher
I wasn’t really spying on my younger sister, Tess. For an eleven-year-old tomboy, she’s fine, and we get along pretty well. Her stuff is her stuff, and mine is mine. She does use the phone a lot, but so do all her friends. We share a computer, too. It’s in the family room. Our parents want it in the open. Even our youngest brother, Timmy, uses it…for whatever a fourth-grader needs a computer.
Last Wednesday, I clicked the mouse to get started on our computer, and a letter flashed on the screen:


Dear Mrs. Wilson:

Thank you for writing to us about Timmy’s cheating on the math test. He knows now that we strongly disapprove of what he did, and we have given him a suitable punishment.

We think this will not happen again, but please let us know if it does.


Mrs. Jean Williams


What is this all about? Timmy cheating? I hadn’t heard a word. A letter from the teacher?

Wait a minute, I thought. Mom could not have written this letter. She had been away all week visiting Grandma Adams, during the spring recess for Mom’s middle school. Dad would not have written it, either. Timmy could not write in such a grown-up fashion. That left…Tess.

“Tess! Tess! Come here a minute.”

“I’m busy.”

“You’d better get here right away. I have something important to ask you.”

A tall, slender sister in jeans and a sweatshirt walked in slowly.

“OK. What’s up?”

“Did you write this letter?” I pointed to the computer screen.

“Well…yes. Why?”

“Did you print it out and mail it?”

“No. Not yet.”


“Why not?”

“Because you are deceiving Tim’s teacher and Mom and Dad, and you would be forging Mom’s signature. That’s why!”

“So what?”

“You will be probably be discovered. Mom and Dad and Tim’s teacher will be very angry about your dishonesty. Even if they don‘t find out, being dishonest is a bad way to handle your problems. No one trusts a cheat.”

“I was just trying to help Timmy….”

“And Timmy was just trying to pass his math test. These are merely excuses. They don’t make it right.”

I explained to Tess that we were fortunate she had not yet signed and sent the fake letter to Tim’s teacher. That would have created a big mess. I realized that she might have changed her mind and not sent it, so I did not come down too hard on her. I think she understood, even though she did not like being criticized. I was going to explain further, when I heard the front door slam. Tim had come home.

“Tim, come in here!” I yelled.

Tim tossed his baseball glove on the couch and came over by the computer. His expression showed that he could tell from my tone of voice that I was annoyed.

“What, Rick?”

“Did you get in trouble in school for peeking at another kid’s exam answers during your math test?”

“Er, yes.”

“Was the teacher angry?”

“Yes. I said I was sorry.”

“Did she give you a letter to bring home to your parents?”


“Where is it?”

“In my room.”

“I want you to bring it here, but before you do: Did you ask Tess to write the teacher a letter pretending to be Mom?”


“OK. Go get the teacher’s letter. Quickly.”

Tim returned with the letter. Sure enough, the teacher had caught him peeking at another kid’s answers while they were taking their exam. She wanted Mom and Dad to know.

“Do you realize you were cheating?”

“Yes, but nobody got hurt.”

“Actually, you got hurt.”


“Well, when you play a game or a sport and somebody cheats, what do you think about that person?”

“No good.”

“Right. Is that how you want other people to think of you?”


“If the cheater wins the game, how do you feel?”


“Right. As you get older, there will be other tests, and sometimes they will count for a lot. If you beat out someone else by cheating, that person will be hurt unfairly.”


“If you think you can cheat rather than study, you won’t study as hard and you will learn less, too.”


“Tess tried to help you by writing a letter that would seem to come from Mom. If she had sent it and if Mom and Dad or the school had found out it was a fake, Tess would have been in big trouble. That’s forgery. Grown-ups have gone to jail for doing it.”


“OK. Let’s have dinner. I have stuff on the stove. Dad will be home later, and I will have to tell him about all this. Be thankful the phony letter was not sent. Next time, make sure Mom and Dad get the messages from school.”


Tess helped out with setting the table, and Tim helped by clearing it. As usual, I ended up doing the dishes, but I don’t mind.

When Dad came home, I told him what had gone on. He said I was right to tell him about it. He would need to discuss it with Mom. They might have to keep a closer eye on Tim and on what was on the home computer.

Mom came home a few days later. She was quite annoyed. She and Dad made Tess and Tim clean our backyard and the street in front of our house.

Mom wrote her own letter to the teacher, not much different from what Tess had dreamed up.


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