We wait until Mother’s car is out of sight around the bend before we slip out of the house. Maisie wants to go down to the creeks and go fishing, but I’ve been wanting to go to the old orchard ever since I started smelling autumn in the breeze and listening to the geese calling as they flew over our farm. We can go to the creek anytime, or at least anytime Mother isn’t around to catch us.

But the apples are only ripe once a year, and they’ll be picked and stored in another few days.

We take the long way around, by the front gate and the road, to reach the orchard. When we were younger, we’d run across the fields and climb the fence, but my chair won’t get through the rough ground, so we take the long way. Maisie climbs the trees for me now, and I catch the apples she drops down. Even if I can’t climb, it’s nice just to be outside, to smell the wind and see the blue skies. Mother doesn’t let me outside unless she’s taking me into town to see the doctor. She’d be furious if she caught us out here, especially alone, but apples taste better in the orchard.

Besides, she won’t be home until dark, and Maisie won’t tell. We’re closer than siblings now that I’m stuck in my chair, closer than most boys are with their baby sisters. Sometimes I forget that she’s all of eight years younger than I am. She climbs the trees for me, and I teach her how to tie a hook and bobber and whittle a willow whistle. If Mother knew half the things we got up to together, she’d lock Maisie out of my room for good.

But she won’t be home until dark. So we’ve got time.

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