I always thought that big brothers were supposed to know more than their little sisters. Whenever my sister, Cami, who’s only seven, wanted to know something, she came to me. Why, I taught her almost everything she knows! I showed her how to tie her shoes, how to ride her bike, how to swing a bat and throw a football, how to make a good hook shot, and how to climb the oak tree without falling out.
But there’s one thing that I didn’t teach Cami. I didn’t teach her about apples and things. I learned that from her.
I had always liked Brother Simmons’s apples. He’s our neighbor, and he has a fruit orchard behind our yard. He grows the biggest, best apples in the whole world. It doesn’t matter if they are green, just turning pink, or a deep-shining red—no one grows apples that taste as good as Brother Simmons’s.
All through the spring and summer I peeked through the knotholes in his high board fence to see how the apples were coming along. After the fluffy pink blossoms had fallen, I began to notice tiny green knobs scattered among the leaves. Soon the little knobs became hard green apples that seemed to grow bigger and bigger right while I watched them through the knotholes.
By the time August came, I was so hungry for apples that I could hardly stand it. Brother Simmons’s were bigger than my fist and blushing pink in spots, and I knew that I couldn’t peek through the knotholes with my mouth watering much longer.
I thought about climbing the fence, but I was afraid that Mom or Brother Simmons would see me. Then one afternoon I was exploring and found a loose board. I pushed on it and twisted until I could squeeze through the fence. Before I knew it, I was standing under one of Brother Simmons’s apple trees and looking into the branches at those crunchy, juicy apples.
Before I thought much about what I was doing, I began picking apples and stuffing them inside my shirt. After I had picked seven of the biggest apples I could find, I sneaked back to the loose board and squeezed through the fence. I had just bitten into an apple, when I heard a voice call, “Hey, Joe, where’d you get the apple?”
I was so startled that I jumped back and crashed into the fence, and all the apples dribbled out of my shirt onto the ground by my feet. I stood there with my heart drumming in my throat, my eyes wide, and my mouth open.
“I didn’t mean to scare you, Joe,” Cami whispered, pushing out of a little hideout that she had in the bushes.
I glared at her, looked around to see if we were alone, then growled, “You didn’t scare me.” I bent over and started snatching up the fallen apples.
“Where’d you get the apples, Joe?” Cami asked again, making it plural this time. “Can I have one?”
I eyed Cami carefully and said, “Well, maybe one.” I held the biggest one out to her.
She grabbed it and took a huge bite, closed her eyes ecstatically, and smiled while the apple juice dribbled out the corners of her mouth and trickled down her chin. “Did Brother Simmons give them to you?” she asked, taking another bite.
I glanced over my shoulder toward the house to see if Mom was watching. “Promise not to tell?” I asked.
“Promise not to tell what?” she asked.
“Promise not to tell a secret about the apples? If you promise not to tell, I’ll give you as many apples as you want.”
Cami nodded. “I promise.”
I licked my lips, knowing that I was tricking Cami. “I picked them from Brother Simmons’s tree,” I admitted, sitting down and biting into the apple I had already started eating. I tried not to look over at her.
“Did he just give them to you?” she asked, crunching into her apple again.
I shook my head and concentrated on my own apple.
Cami stopped chewing, swallowed, and stared at me. “Well, how’d you get them, Joe?”
“There’s a loose board in the fence. I just squeezed through and got some.”
Cami was quiet for a long time. “Isn’t that stealing?” she whispered after a while.
I finished eating the last few bites around the core and threw it into the bushes where no one would find it. “Oh, Brother Simmons has lots of apples. He won’t miss these. I only took seven. He has thousands.”
“But, Joe, those thousands of apples are all his.”
“They probably would have just fallen on the ground and rotted.”
“But they were still his,” she insisted, “good or rotten.”
“Oh, he won’t care,” I argued. “He’ll probably give us some pretty soon like he always does. We just won’t take as many then, and that will make up for taking some now.”
When Cami didn’t argue, I began polishing another apple on my pants. Finally, I looked over at her. She was just holding her half-eaten apple in her lap and staring at it as it began to turn brown.
“Isn’t it any good?” I asked.
She shrugged her shoulders. “It was,” she mumbled, “until I found out how you got it. Then it kind of went sour.”
“Well, you can’t waste it,” I told her. But I knew how she felt, because my apple had been pretty sour too. It was the first apple that I’d eaten from Brother Simmons’s orchard that hadn’t been the best in the whole world.
Cami looked over at me. “Are you going to eat all of them?” she asked, pointing at the other five apples.
I gulped. “Well, I’m not very hungry now,” I mumbled.
“Then what do we do? If we don’t eat them, they’ll just turn rotten.”
I chewed on my tongue for a while, waiting for an idea. “I know,” I finally said. “We’ll throw them back over the fence. Brother Simmons will never know. He’ll just think that they fell off his tree.”
I tossed the apples over the fence and said, “Let’s go ride our bikes, Cami. I’ll take you down to the park and push you in the swing.”
She shook her head. “I don’t feel like riding bikes or swinging. I feel a little sick.”
“It’s probably the green apple,” I explained, picking it up from her lap and tossing it into the bushes with my apple core. “Green apples can do that to you.”
Cami nodded her head but didn’t say anything.
That night as I went to turn the light off and climb into bed, my bedroom door opened, and Cami tiptoed in. I could tell that she had been crying a little.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I want to say my prayers,” she mumbled. “I keep thinking about the apples, and I can’t pray.”
For a long time I just sat on my bed, staring at Cami. “Are you going to tell on me?” I finally asked.
“I promised,” she cried. “But we did wrong, Joe, and I don’t think I can pray again until we do the right thing.”
“Well,” I growled, “you don’t have anything to worry about. I’m the one who stole the apples.”
“But I ate one. How can I ask Heavenly Father to help me do the right thing when I’ve already done the wrong thing without fixing things up?”
Well, that was about the hardest question that anybody had ever asked me. Being the big brother and all, I knew the answers to a lot of questions, but I sure didn’t have a good answer for Cami that night.
“I’ll think of something,” I said.
“We have to tell Brother Simmons what we did,” Cami declared, “and pay him back from our allowances.”
I could give up some of my allowance, but I just couldn’t tell Brother Simmons that I’d stolen his apples. I would do anything but that. I pointed a finger at Cami and warned, “Cami, you promised not to tell. You promised!”
Cami just stood there. Then two big tears sprouted in the corners of her eyes. She blinked, and they tumbled down her cheeks onto her nightgown. “I promised that I wouldn’t tell, Joe, but you have to help me.”
I bit down on my lip and clenched my fists. “I know,” I said finally. “Tomorrow I’ll go offer to pull all the weeds along Brother Simmons’s ditch bank. That will more than pay for those apples.”
Cami grinned. “That’s a good idea, Joe, and I can help too. We’ll tell Brother Simmons that we’re working to pay for the apples we stole.”
“Cami,” I said sternly, “we don’t have to tell him anything. We’ll just work for him. That will pay for everything. He doesn’t have to know that we stole the apples and that we’re working to pay for them.”
The grin on Cami’s face melted into a sad frown. “But I don’t think that’s honest, at least not all-the-way honest. My Primary teacher told us that if we’re going to be honest, we have to be honest all the way.”
I knew that Cami was right, but I was afraid to tell Brother Simmons what I’d done. “I’ll figure something out,” I mumbled. “You go back to bed. We can’t do anything tonight, but I’ll work something out.” I licked my lips. “I promise.”
Cami nodded her head and asked if she could say her prayers by my bed that night. When I said that she could, she dropped to her knees and prayed that she was sorry for stealing but that she’d fix everything up the next day, because her big brother had promised to help her, and he knew everything.
Well, I didn’t get much sleep that night. I kept tossing and turning and kicking my covers off and punching my pillow and thinking of green apples, Brother Simmons, and Cami.
After breakfast the next morning I took a deep breath and told Cami, “I’m going over to Brother Simmons’s. I’m going to tell him what I did, and I’m going to work for him to pay for the apples.”
“I’ll come with you.”
I shook my head. “I stole the apples, so I’m the one who has to pay for them.”
I started around the block to Brother Simmons’s place. My mouth was dry, my heart was thumping in my chest, my hands were sticky with sweat, and my breath came in short, fast bursts. The closer I got to Brother Simmons’s place, the heavier my feet became.
Just as I was about to stop, turn around, and forget the whole thing, Cami slipped her hand into mine and squeezed. “I’m coming with you, Joe,” she insisted. “I helped eat the apples, so I have to work for Brother Simmons too.”
I never knew that a little sister could give a big brother so much courage, but with Cami marching bravely beside me, I knew that I could do about anything.
I don’t even remember talking much to Brother Simmons. He was out trimming his hedge, and we just went up to him, told him what we had done, and promised to pull the weeds along the ditch bank to pay for the stolen apples. He said that we didn’t have to and that he was proud of us for being honest. But Cami said that the only way she could feel good enough to say her prayers that night was to pull the weeds and pay for the apples.
Cami and I pulled weeds all morning. It was hard work. Flies buzzed around our heads, the hot sun made the sweat drip off our noses, and by the time we were finished, we had dirt in our shoes, stickers in our socks, burrs in our jeans, and little blisters on our hands. But we sure felt good inside!
As I walked home holding Cami’s hand, I thought about Brother Simmons’s apples. I used to think that they were the best-tasting things in the whole world. But they didn’t taste nearly as good as I felt that day, knowing that I had been all-the-way honest. I smiled and squeezed Cami’s hand because that was the best lesson that I had ever learned. And I’d learned it from my little sister!