RULES

Five year old David Starsky learns the hard way not to disobey his parents.

Five year old David Starsky peered through the bars of the crib at his baby brother, Nicky. The baby was crying and kicking his feet in the air, his tiny hands curled into fists. Rachel Starsky hurried into the room and leaned over the railing, making gentle cooing sounds at Nicky to soothe him as she began to change his diaper.

David stepped back, wriggling his nose in distaste. It seemed like all his little brother did was sleep, cry and make messes in his diaper that made him smell bad. David couldn't help feeling jealous of the demands that the baby made on his mother's attention. She used to bake cookies, read David stories, and take him to the park to play but now she didn't seem to have time for him anymore.

Sighing softly, David slipped out of the room as his mother tended to the baby. Nobody seemed to have time for him anymore, not even Pop. With another mouth to feed, Pop was working longer hours at work and when he did come home he was too tired to do more than eat and go to bed. David felt a tear slip down his cheek as he went out the back door and into the tiny backyard.

It was a warm summer afternoon and he could hear a neighbor mowing grass and some children playing out in the street. Sticking his hands in the pockets of his worn jeans, David found the nickel Pop had given him that morning. He wanted some candy but he knew that Ma wouldn't have time to walk to the candy store on the corner so he could buy some. He chewed at his bottom lip as his sapphire eyes darted towards the street. He knew he wasn't supposed to leave the yard by himself but he knew the way to the store and back. Ma would never even know that he was gone. He could run both ways and be there and back before she started looking for him.

His mind made up, he smiled as he ran down the driveway to the sidewalk. Glancing back towards the house to make sure that his mother hadn't seen him leave the yard, he hurried off towards the store on the corner a block away. Five minutes later, he came out of the store with a tiny bag of candy clutched tightly in his hand. As he started back towards his house, he didn't see the dark blue Chevy that slowly pulled up beside him.

Suddenly, a middle aged man with long greasy brown hair and piercing brown eyes jumped out of the car and grabbed David. Startled, David began to fight, kicking and hitting at the man with his fists. He tried to yell but the man put his hand over David's mouth as he shoved him into the back seat of the car and slammed the door shut. Before David knew what was happening, the man climbed back into the car and sped away down the street.

Fear clutched at David's throat when he tried to open the back door so he could get out only to discover that there were no handles on the inside of the car. And he couldn't get into the front seat because there was some kind of glass between the front seat and the back where he was.

"Hey, Mister!" David yelled, pounding on the glass with his fists. "Let me out of here! I wanna go home!" The man ignored him and kept driving. Tears filled David's eyes as he saw the car driving past his house. He knew that he was going to be in a lot of trouble for leaving the yard when he wasn't supposed to. And even worse than that, he was in a car with a stranger, something his parents had both told him numerous times never to do.

He pounded on the glass some more but the man continued to ignore him. Finally, David curled up on the back seat in a fetal position, burying his face against his knees to hide his tears. Big boys weren't supposed to cry but he didn't feel much like a big boy right now.

He must have cried himself to sleep because he was startled awake when the car jerked to a stop and he heard loud voices outside the car. When the back door opened, David immediately scrambled to get out of the car. He felt a pair of strong arms grabbing him and holding him close. Through a blur of tears, he saw the man's blue uniform and knew that he was safe. Burying his face against the man's shoulder, he began to sob loudly, locking his arms tightly around the policeman's neck.

He felt the man carrying him away from the car and opened his eyes wide when he heard his father's voice frantically calling his name. Raising his head, he scrambled out of the man's arms when he saw his father running towards them. Throwing himself into his father's arms, David began to cry again. Michael Starsky wrapped his arms around his son his own tears falling freely down his face as he sank to the ground on his knees.

Comforted by his father's embrace, David blocked out the sounds around him as the policemen arrested the man who had put him in the car and took him away in one of the patrol cars. He was startled when his father suddenly stood up and sat him on his feet. Looking into his father's face, David was frightened by the anger he saw reflected in his eyes.

"David Michael Starsky," his father said sharply "How many times have you been told never to leave the yard by yourself?"

"I'm sorry, Pop…" David said, lowering his eyes in shame, hurt by the disappointment he saw in his father's face. "I won't do it again."

Struggling to control his anger, Michael grabbed his son's arm and said, "No, you won't. You're going to get a spanking when we get home and then you are grounded to your room for a month."

David hung his head as his father led him over to his own patrol car and put him in the front seat. He had never seen his father so mad before and that scared him almost as much as the spanking that he was going to get when he got home.

His father drove back to the house in silence, his fingers white against the steering wheel and his mouth drawn into a thin line. As they pulled into the driveway, David saw his mother standing on the front stoop with Nicky clutched in her arms. She was crying and that made David feel even worse, knowing that he had made his mother cry.

Michael marched him past his mother and into the house without a word. Taking David to his room, he closed the door firmly behind them and looked at David somberly as he reached down to unbuckle his belt. Blinking back his tears, David looked at his father in silence and then turned to face the wall, ready to take the punishment that he knew he deserved.

"Put your hands against the wall." His father said in a quiet voice. Trembling, David did as he was told. He jerked and cried out in pain as the belt hit his upper thighs, stinging painfully even through the heavy denim of his jeans. His father reached out with one hand to steady him as he gave him five more swats with the belt, before kneeling down and drawing the quietly sobbing child into his arms.

In a shaking voice, his father said, "I'm sorry, David, but what you did was wrong. That man who grabbed you could have hurt you very badly…do you understand?"
David nodded through his tears. "He was a bad man." He whimpered.

"Yes, he was. A very bad man. That's why your mother and I have always told you never to leave the house by yourself. We don't want anything to happen to you."

"That's why I'm not suppose to talk to strangers or get into a car with someone I don't know." David said through his tears, showing a maturity far beyond his years.

"That's right and you forgot that today. That's why you had to be punished." Michael smiled gently as he tousled his son's unruly curls. "Your mother and I love you and your brother very, very much and we don't want either one of to get hurt. We tell you that you can't do certain things, like leaving the yard by yourself, for your own good. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." David said, nodding solemnly as he brushed away his tears with his fist. "I won't do it again. I promise."

"I'm sure you won't. You're still grounded to your room for the next month to think about what you did. And you will apologize to your mother for scaring her like that…and no candy for the next six months."

"But, Pop…" David started to protest.

"Don't but Pop me…" Michael warned him "You disobeyed your mother and me both and you have to take your punishment like a man. You must always accept responsibility when you do something wrong. Rules are there for a reason and you have to obey them or you will be punished."

Michael gave his son a hug and then straightened up. He smiled as he left the room, closing the door behind him. His oldest child was curious and headstrong, filled a zest for life that sometimes made him a bit careless, but he had no doubt that David would remember the lesson he had learned today and wouldn't be so quick to disobey the rules the next time.

THE END