Larry scuffed at the dirt with his worn sneaker. His hands were pushed deep into his jeans pockets as he considered the deepening hole that he had unconsciously dug.
“Well, c’mon then, let’s go,” Steve said impatiently. “We won’t get caught,” he added. “I’ve done it lots of times.”
“How far is it?” Larry asked.
“It’s not far. C’mon, let’s go.”
Larry kept his head down as he dug out the sloped sides of the hole with his toe. Now the walls were almost straight. Perfect, he thought, for a game of pots. Since he’d left the prairies, he hadn’t played marbles. They just aren’t big on marbles out here, he had decided.
“Ahh, forget it. You’re just afraid of getting caught,” Steve said, turning to walk away.
“No, I’m not,” Larry mumbled, but he knew that he was. He had just moved to the West Coast with his family, and he knew that his parents would be unhappy with him if he got into trouble with the first friend that he made. On the other hand, Steve had seemed like a decent guy to have as a friend, and now Steve was going to show him where a real cherry tree was!
“OK, OK, I’m coming,” Larry called, “but I have to be home for supper.”
“No problem,” Steve called back, gesturing for Larry to catch up.
“I hope there aren’t any dogs,” Larry added as he trotted up beside Steve.
“Don’t worry. There’s just an old lady who lives by herself.”
“Those cherries better be as good as you say they are.”
“They’re the best cherries around. Hey, haven’t you ever gone raiding before?” Steve asked.
“I swiped some tomatoes once,” Larry answered, embarrassed. “But I knew I shouldn’t have done it.”
“They don’t have cherry trees on the prairies, where I came from.”
“There’s the yard,” Steve whispered.
A two-story house, surrounded by a tall wooden fence, was at the intersection of two quiet streets. In the middle of the backyard, reaching as high as the house itself, was the cherry tree. Larry could make out the tempting clusters of ripe cherries. He told himself that they couldn’t possibly taste as good as the ones in the store—the ones that his mother usually said were too expensive to buy.
“This way,” Steve said as he quickly cut into the lane that ran behind the house.
Peering through a crack in the fence, Larry could see beautifully manicured bushes and rows of brightly colored flowers that lined the fence and the carpetlike lawn. It’s just like a picture, Larry thought. Then he spied a woman meticulously weeding a bed of flowers at the back of the house.
“Rats!” Steve growled. “We’ll have to call it off for today.”
“Why?” Larry asked.
Steve drew his cheeks in and puckered his lips as if he had just bitten into a lemon. “Why! Man, are you crazy? The old lady is right there. How are we supposed to get to the tree without her seeing us?”
“I have an idea,” Larry said. “Follow me.”
“What are you going to do?”
Larry was pretty sure that Steve wouldn’t think much of his idea, so he didn’t answer. Instead, he strode along next to the fence until he came to a gate that was next to the back of the house. He felt a little strange, knocking on a gate, but he did it anyway.
“What are you doing?” Steve hissed again, just as a small, pleasant voice called out from inside the yard, “Yes?”
“Uh, my name’s Larry. I was wondering if my friend and I could pick your cherries for you.”
“I don’t believe it,” Steve muttered. “I’m getting out of here.” He turned to go, but Larry grabbed him by the arm.
The gate opened with a click, and a tiny, smiling face with glasses peeked out. “Hello,” the old lady said. “I couldn’t quite hear you before. What did you say?”
Steve folded his arms and looked up at the sky.
“I noticed that you hadn’t picked your cherries yet, and well, I was just wondering if we could pick them for you … and maybe keep some for ourselves too,” Larry stammered. He scuffed his toe in the dirt next to the cement walk, unconsciously digging another marble pot.
The orange ball of a sun began to dip into the west horizon, and a light, cool wind rustled through the leaves of the sturdy cherry tree. Larry grabbed a clump of four dark red cherries dangling in front of him. He put three into the plastic pail and popped one into his mouth. He couldn’t believe how sweet the cherry was, better than any he had had from any store.
“I don’t believe it,” Steve said, spitting out a cherry pit. “We get to keep half of what we pick. How did you know she’d go for it?”
“I guess when you want something bad enough, you’ll even ask for it,” Larry told him.
“My folks will sure be happy to have some of these,” Steve said, holding up a pail loaded with ripe cherries ready to be divided.
“Mine, too,” Larry agreed, looking at his own pail.
“I was just thinking,” Steve said as he climbed down from the tree. “I know where there’s a great plum tree just a few blocks from here.”