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» Forbidden Fruit
by Nicole Crosier Parker
Part 1 | Part 2
A warm California breeze floated through the open kitchen window, bringing with it the rich scent of orange blossoms. Inside, the Bradley family gathered around the kitchen table, enjoying breakfast and discussing the plans for the day.
“I’m going into the city.” Dad sank his fork and knife into a thick stack of pancakes. “I hope to be back before dark.” He paused and looked at his 12-year-old son. “Logan, while I’m gone I’d like you to water the roses and those new lilies we set out the other day. And if I’m not back in time for evening chores, please go ahead and start them by yourself.”
“What do you want me to do today, Dad?” Holly spoke from her place next to Logan.
“Mom will be here, and she has her plans all made for you and Deanna.” Dad winked across the table at Mother. “I wouldn’t dare steal her help out from under her. But there is something you can do for me—or rather, not do. I’ve been keeping it a secret, but maybe I can tell you now.”
“What?” Deanna squealed. Three matching pairs of sparkling brown eyes riveted themselves on Dad’s merry blue ones.
“Well,” Dad drew out the single syllable, “It’s a secret.”
“Oh, Dad, please tell us!” Holly pleaded.
“But then it might not stay a secret,” he countered, obviously enjoying himself. “I’ll give you a hint, though—it’s about the county fair.”
“Oh, Dad, what is it?” The mere mention of the county fair brought smiles to their faces. The fair was a highlight for the children, who talked about it for months before and after. They looked forward with intense excitement to exploring the exhibits of everything from quilts to piglets.
“Oh, Victor, tell them,” Mother admonished, smiling and shaking her head at him across the table. “They’re likely not to eat another bite until you do.”
“Well, all right.” Dad surrendered. “Here’s the secret.” He lowered his voice to a hush and darted a look in each direction in mock confidentiality. “At the end of the first row in the orchard is a special orange tree. It’s special because I’ve picked off every single orange bud from that tree—except one.” He leaned back in his chair. “That one is growing bigger by the day, because the tree is putting its whole effort into growing one orange.” He grinned. “By the time the fair begins, that orange will be huge. We’ll pick it and take it to the fair. It might just win a prize! And anyway, it will be fun to watch. But I need you to help me.”
“How can we help take care of the orange, Dad?” Logan queried.
“Actually, it doesn’t need a lot of care. You can help best by staying away from the tree. In fact, I’d like to ask that everyone keep away from it. Can I trust you to do that?”
“Yes, Dad!” chorused three young voices.
“Good!” Dad pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. “I’d better be on my way to town. I have an appointment with Jerry Briggs at 10:00.”
Logan pulled the hose out a little farther as he moved to the next flower bed. I wonder what the orange looks like now, he thought. It’s probably still very small and green, but Dad said it’s the biggest orange in the orchard. He stared across the road at the tree on the far right of the orange grove. Can’t see anything from here, of course. He sighed and turned off the hose, then coiled it neatly under the faucet.
“Dad!” he called. “I think I can see the prize orange. Can’t I go look?”
Dad shook his head. “It’s not worth the chance, son. In a few weeks you can come out with me when I pick the orange. Until then—I’d really like you to keep away.” He looked steadily at Logan. “I don’t want anything to happen to that orange—understand?”
Logan nodded and turned away, disappointment clouding his eyes. Dad’s being way too fussy, he complained to himself. What would it hurt for me to go over there? What does he think I’m going to do—get a big stick and knock it down?
“No problem, Dad,” Logan assured his father.
“We’ll be extra quiet so Mamma can get her sleep,” Holly promised.
“Yes, don’t worry about a thing,” Deanna added.
Dad smiled. “It’s great to have kids you can trust. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He climbed in the cab of his pickup truck and pulled out of the driveway in a cloud of dust.
Soon he sprawled out in the back yard, a tall tumbler of lemonade in his hand. A few minutes later his sisters joined him. “We’ve finished our work, too,” Deanna told him. “What shall we do now?”
“How about jumping rope?” Holly suggested.
“Forget it!” Logan shook his head in disgust. “Jumping rope is boring.”
Deanna giggled. “You say that just because you can’t ever jump at the right time.”
Logan chuckled. “Maybe so—but I wouldn’t brag too much. When it comes to playing catch, I know a certain young lady who nearly always misses the ball.”
Deanna rolled her eyes, and all three children sat silently for several minutes. Suddenly Holly sat up straight. “Let’s go see the orange!” She jumped to her feet. “It’s been out there all this time, and we never have been able to see how big it is.”
“Hey, that sounds like fun,” Logan scrambled to his feet.
“Wait a minute!” Deanna protested. “We promised Dad we wouldn’t go near it.”
“Don’t be silly,” Logan scoffed. “We’re not going to make the orange fall off just by looking at it. Come on! We’ll just have a quick look and hurry back home. What will be the harm?”
(Continued in Part 2.)
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