Marty glanced at his shoes self-consciously. No one looking at the brightly polished leather could tell that the insides were caked with mud. But Marty knew. He couldn’t wait for Primary to end, so that he could go home and take them off. I won’t go near the canal this time! he vowed to himself.
Last Sunday it had sounded like fun when his brother challenged him to jump over the canal on the way home from church. He’d almost made it, too, but not quite. Conrad had had to pull him out, wet and muddy from head to toe. When they reached home, Mother looked them over. “I think it’s time you boys learned how to do your own laundry,” she said. “And don’t forget to clean your shoes.”
But Marty had forgotten until just a few minutes before church started. He’d gotten the outsides cleaned and polished, but not the insides. Now his feet hurt after sitting three hours with mud in his shoes.
“Can anyone tell me the steps of repentance?” Sister Wilson’s voice brought him back to the present. “Yes, Shelly.”
“That’s right. What happens if you leave out one of these steps? Have you truly repented?”
“No,” the class answered in unison.
“I want you to think about repentance this week. Choose some mistake you’ve made, and honestly try to apply all the steps of repentance. Then pay close attention to how it makes you feel.”
The ringing bell told Marty that there were just a few minutes left before he would be free of his shoes. He didn’t hear most of the closing prayer. At the sound of “Amen,” he was off to the car. Once inside, he took off his shoes and wiggled his toes. Who’d have thought that a little mud could make you so uncomfortable?
“Marty, will you take this pile of clothes up to Emily’s room,” Mom called out Tuesday afternoon. As he was setting the clothes on Emily’s bed, the collection of perfume bottles on her dresser caught his attention. He picked them up one by one, read the names out loud, and sniffed them. How do they come up with the names for these things?
“Marty!” Conrad called from the hallway. “Come play ball.”
Conrad’s voice startled Marty, and he dropped the bottle he was holding. It fell over, and most of the contents spilled out before he could right it. An overpowering scent filled the room. Marty grabbed a handful of tissues from the box on Emily’s dresser and started to mop up the mess.
“What are you doing in here,” Conrad asked as he stuck his head in the doorway. “Give me a gas mask, I’m suffocating!”
“I spilled one of Emily’s perfumes. I didn’t mean to; I was just looking at them.”
“Boy, that’s the expensive one Richard just gave her for her birthday,” Conrad said, coming over to help wipe up the spill. “She’s going to hit the roof when she finds out about this.”
“What can I do?”
“Well, first, don’t throw the tissues in her garbage can. That would tip her off the minute she walked in. We’ll wrap them in a plastic bag and throw them in the garbage can outside. Next, open the windows to air the room out. She won’t be back until late, and the smell should be gone by then.”
Marty nodded in agreement and scooped up the tissues. He was careful to hold them away from his shirt so that it wouldn’t absorb the smell. After he stuffed them into a plastic bag and pushed the bag to the bottom of the trash, he went back to Emily’s room. “Whew—it still smells pretty bad, doesn’t it? Maybe I’ll bring the fan from the family room in here to help blow the smell outside.”
“That was a great idea,” Conrad said when Marty plugged the fan in. “We can leave it on until we go to bed tonight. I bet Emily will never even notice that there was a problem.”
“Except for one thing.” Marty pointed to the almost-empty bottle.
“Maybe if you rearrange them and put that one in the back, she won’t notice it. She has so many that by the time she thinks of wearing that one again, she probably won’t remember how much she used of it.”
“She’ll remember,” Marty moaned. “Hey, I have an idea! I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later he returned with a glass of water and the box of food coloring from the kitchen. “I bet I can color this water to look just like that perfume. Then I’ll just fill the bottle. It was so strong, she’ll never notice if it’s diluted a little.”
By the time Emily returned home, her room was aired, the fan returned to the family room, her windows closed, and the perfume bottle filled. Conrad and Marty lay wide awake in their bedroom across the hall, listening for Emily’s cry of alarm. When her bedroom light clicked off, they knew they were in the clear, at least for a while. I should feel relieved, Marty thought as he lay awake in the dark, but I feel miserable.
Every time Marty looked at Emily for the next few days, he felt awful, even though she never seemed to notice that her perfume was diluted. Marty resolved he would never again touch Emily’s belongings without her permission. He even stopped his usual teasing. He opened doors for her, carried things for her, did anything he could to be helpful to her. Still, he didn’t stop feeling guilty inside.
“What am I doing wrong?” he asked in his prayers. “I’ve talked to Thee about my problem with Emily’s perfume. I’ve done everything I can to be nice to her. But I still feel horrible. I feel like my Sunday shoes, clean on the outside but muddy inside. How can I feel all the way clean?” Marty knew the answer. He rose from his knees, crossed the hall to Emily’s room, and knocked on the door.
“Come in.” Emily was sitting on her bed, studying history.
“I need to talk to you.”
“Have a seat.” She nodded toward the end of the bed.
Marty sat down, but he had a hard time looking at Emily. Help me, Heavenly Father, he prayed silently. Finally looking up, he blurted out, “I spilled your bottle of perfume from Richard.”
Emily got up and walked over to her collection of perfumes. She picked up the bottle and looked at it. “This one?”
She removed the lid, sniffed, and replaced it. She sat back down on the bed next to Marty. “Is that why you’ve been so nice to me lately?”
“Yes,” Marty admitted. “At first, I just wanted to keep you from getting mad at me, so I filled the bottle with colored water. Then I felt really awful and wanted to be a better brother to you. But no matter how much I tried to help you and no matter how much I prayed about it, I never stopped feeling guilty. I knew I had to tell you what I’d done before these awful feelings would go away.”
Emily put her arm around Marty’s shoulders. They sat in silence for a few moments. “You know, Marty, when you spilled the bottle, you wasted only what had spilled. But when you added water to what was left, you ruined all of it.”
“I’ll buy you another bottle, Emily, honest. Just tell me how much it costs, and I’ll save all my allowance until I can buy another one.”
Emily smiled, “Marty, if you want to get me something to replace it, I’d rather have a tube of my favorite hand cream. It would take several months of your allowance to replace that perfume, and I wouldn’t really feel good about letting you do it. Do you know why?”
Marty shook his head.
“Because as much as I appreciate it as a gift because Richard gave it to me, I don’t really like it. It’s much too strong for me. Of all the perfumes I have, if you were going to spill one, I’m glad you spilled that one.”
They both laughed hard for a few minutes. It feels so good to be able to laugh with Emily, Marty thought.
“I probably never would have used it again, little brother,” Emily confided affectionately. “Why didn’t you just wait until I said something? You would have gotten away with it completely.”
“I couldn’t live with the way I felt any longer,” Marty explained.
“The Holy Ghost may whisper softly,” she said, “but it’s a pretty piercing whisper at times, isn’t it?”
Marty nodded. “Do you forgive me?”
“Yes, I forgive you, Marty. And I’m happy to know that you’re listening to the Holy Ghost so carefully. It must have been very hard to come to me. I have just one more question—does this mean you’re going to stop being nice to me?”
Marty grinned. “How could I stop being nice to you, when you’ve been so nice to me? Anyone who thinks having a big sister is a big pain doesn’t have a big sister like you.”
Marty didn’t watch his feet during Sister Wilson’s lesson that Sunday. His shoes were clean on the outside and the inside. And so was he.