The Pink Sweater

By Debbonnaire Kovacs

Kenya Jayne Washington pedaled fast, trying to keep up with her friends’ bikes. Mali and Lisa were two new girls at school, so pretty and popular that Kenya felt special because they had chosen to be her friends. At her house, there was a rule that you had to invite your friends home to meet Mom and Daddy. “If you don’t want them to meet us, they probably aren’t the best friends for you,” Mom had said.

Kenya hadn’t invited Mali and Lisa home yet. She was going to . . . one of these days. Anyway, right now they were going to the department store where Daddy worked. They would probably see him, at least for a minute. That sort of counted, didn’t it?

The light turned red, and Kenya stopped her bike.

“Come on, there’s nobody coming!” Lisa said. Her bike streaked across the street, followed closely by Mali’s. “Come on!” they yelled, laughing.

Kenya rolled forward. There was still no traffic. It would probably be safe. Then she put her foot back on the pavement. This, she knew, was just the sort of thing Mom and Daddy feared. Peer pressure! Well, Kenya knew right from wrong. She would wait for the light. That proved it was OK for her to hang out with Mali and Lisa.

The girls laughed when she joined them. “What a law-abiding little citizen!” Lisa said. She made it sound like an insult.

“I hope so,” Kenya said calmly, but her heart was beating a little quickly. She rode ahead, showing that she knew where the bike rack was. Their turn to catch up.

Inside the store, the three girls headed straight for the clothing department. They giggled and clowned around, holding clothes up to themselves.

“Ooo, here’s what you’re looking for!” exclaimed Mali, grabbing an ugly orange shirt with red stripes and holding it up to Kenya. “Oh, it’s you!

Kenya pretended to be excited. “And this skirt to go with it!” she crowed, reaching for a green one that reached the ground on her.

“Here they are,” said Lisa, interrupting the other two. She went to the clearance table, which held a small stack of fuzzy sweaters, and quickly looked through them. “There are still three left in our size. The rest are way too small. We have to get them now! The hot pink one for you, Kenya, the green for Mali, and the blue for me.” She shook one out. Each sweater had a sparkly snowflake on the front.

“Oh, how pretty!” exclaimed Kenya. She tried not to show how thrilled she felt at the idea of having matching sweaters with Lisa and Mali.

“They’re marked down to only twenty dollars,” Lisa said.

Kenya’s heart sank. She only had ten. Even with her discount because her dad worked here, it wouldn’t be enough. She tried to explain, but Lisa got mad.

“If my dad worked here, I’d make him get it for me! Never mind! Come on, Mali, I guess little Miss Goody-Goody doesn’t want to be part of our club.” They turned away.

“Wait!” Kenya begged.

Lisa looked at her scornfully.

“I’ll get it by tomorrow. I promise!”

“Better hope it’s still here,” Mali said, and they left without saying goodbye.

Kenya rode slowly home. She knew she couldn’t ask for any extra money right now. Somehow, she’d have to get it herself.

All that afternoon, she thought about it. She tried praying, but felt guilty. She wasn’t really sure what Jesus would think of her desire to be just like—well, almost like Lisa and Mali.

After supper, Kenya discovered that Nairobi, her older sister, had left a ten-dollar bill on her vanity. Kenya hesitated only for a moment. She wasn’t stealing. She was sure Nairobi would say it was fine. Kenya would pay her back. But Nairobi wouldn’t get home from Grandma’s for two more days. The sweater wouldn’t wait until Kenya could ask. There was still time to get to the store tonight.

Kenya raced to the store. Yes, the pink sweater was still there. She picked it up and went to the front of the store.

“Hey, Sugar Plum!”

Kenya jumped. “Daddy!”

“Did you come to escort your old dad home from the salt mine?”

“No, I mean, yes, in a minute—I have to buy something!” Kenya hurried to a check-out line. Usually she couldn’t wait to see Daddy in the evening. Why did she feel like a criminal tonight? As she waited behind a lady with a cart piled with stuff, she pictured herself with Lisa and Mali, in matching sweaters. She tried to imagine the other girls’ faces. But the picture that formed in her mind was of Jesus.

“Hello, Kenya!” Of course all the checkers knew her. “What a pretty sweater! You’ll look lovely in it. And with your discount, it’s only—”

“I can’t,” Kenya said.

“What?”

“I, uh, I changed my mind.” Kenya picked up the sweater and ran back toward the clothing department. “Forget it, Satan!” she whispered as she put the sweater back on the clearance table. She turned to go find her dad.

“Guess what, Daddy? Jesus rescued me just now!”

“He did?” Daddy looked startled.

“Yes. I’ll tell you all about it on the way home.”

Kenya rode slowly, and Daddy walked beside her. This was an evening routine they liked, and did often. When she finished her story, Daddy said there was singing in heaven. Kenya smiled, feeling happy for the first time all day. “Only, Daddy?”

“Hmmm?”

“I feel sorry for those girls. They don’t have dads at home, and their mothers work. Do you think if I invite them home, maybe they might come?”

“They might. I’d rather you didn’t go anywhere else with them except our house.”

“I won’t.” Kenya pedaled in silence for a minute. “Jesus loves them too.”

“He does, He does at that,” Daddy said.

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