I took my eight year old son Brandon with me to the grocery store last month. He had managed to make some extra money by helping our neighbor drain her foot, so I let him hang around near the toy vending machines while I shopped. Along comes this kid Matt, a porky little outcast who's a year ahead of Brandon in school.
Matt asked Brandon to loan him a quarter. In good faith, Brandon did so. Matt bought a rubbery sticky hand from the vending machine. Then they went outside the store and Matt threw his toy against the front of the building. It somehow got stuck up high where they couldn't reach. Then Matt did the unthinkable. He told Brandon that he would not be paying him back the quarter!
Brandon is at that age where he's learning how to assert himself. It's not about the quarter. Hell, you could throw a quarter at someone and get your money's worth. It's the principle of the thing. So I told him to demand what's his! Our family doesn't take shit! I told him that if Matt won't pony up, go ahead and threaten him.
Brandon usually walks to school with older kids from our block, and they sometimes run into Matt at the last crosswalk. For three days in a row he warned Matt that his older friends would beat him up one day during recess. Brandon didn't really mean it, and Matt laughed it off.
So around dinnertime last night, Matt and his father showed up at our front door. They'd already been around to visit Brandon's older buddies. Apparently his friends didn't get the memo, because they'd beaten the shit out of Matt during recess that morning. His father pulled the back of Matt's shirt up for us so we could see the bruises that covered his back.
Brandon looked shocked. He had never intended for this to happen. Then Matt's father said, "Matt, isn't there something you wanted to say?". Matt looked up at Brandon, stuck out his arm, and opened his palm to reveal a shiny new coin. "Here's your quarter back..." he said weakly. Brandon took it and said thanks and said he was sorry. Both boys looked devastated.
Later that night I found Brandon crying in his room. He felt really guilty about Matt getting hurt. I did my best to reassure him. I said, "I know you feel bad now, honey, but it was for the best. You got your quarter back! You won, and he lost!". After hearing that he smiled. As I left the room I saw him pull the quarter out of his pocket to admire it a little.