Andrew liked to rush home after school to put on his jeans, soft flannel shirt, and sneakers. These clothes were perfect for climbing the cherry tree. Andrew would play for hours in the tree until his mother called for him to come inside. Of course he didn’t play in it every day. But even on days when he had other places to go, like to a baseball game or sledding with his best friend, Jeremy, Andrew would smile whenever he passed the cherry tree.

Andrew remembered certain things about the tree that made it special each season. For instance, one spring he’d left his teddy bear up in the cherry tree overnight, and it had rained. The next morning the soggy teddy bear resting among all the fluffy blossoms looked like a lost mitten in a pile of new snow.

During the summer Andrew and Jeremy kept their jars of fireflies beside the tree trunk. They would climb the tree and talk about the fine tree house they would build as soon as they had enough money for lumber.

If Andrew had to pick a time when he thought the tree was most beautiful, he’d probably choose autumn, when the leaves changed into their brilliant colors. When he stood in the piles of leaves that fell to the ground, their good smell made him think of frost and log cabins and other things.

When winter snows fell, the cherry tree became a hitching post for sleds.

Jeremy liked the tree almost as much as Andrew did. They’d climb as high as they could in it, then tell each other secrets and make plans that no one could overhear. Their biggest plan this fall was to gather all the pinecones they could, cover them with peanut butter, roll them in birdseed, and set them in the cherry tree limbs for the birds. They knew their plan wouldn’t be ruined if someone overheard it, but whispering about it among the branches of their favorite tree made their idea more special.

On an Indian summer Saturday, Jeremy climbed the tree so he could sit and think. When Andrew came out of his house, Jeremy called down to him. Andrew could see his friend through an open spot in the orange red foliage. When Andrew had settled onto his favorite branch, Jeremy told him that his family was moving! His dad had bought a toy manufacturing company in Florida, and they were going to move there in November.

Andrew thought Jeremy’s secret was just about the most important secret he’d ever been told. They whispered excitedly about all the fun things Jeremy was going to get to do, like swimming in the ocean all year round. When they ran out of ideas about what Florida would be like, they talked about their pinecone plan. It was then that they realized that Jeremy might not be there to help Andrew put the peanut-butter pinecones out for the birds! Before they climbed down, they made a pact to pray every night from then until November for snow to come early so that they could try their pinecone plan before Jeremy had to move.

Each day Andrew noticed more leaves beneath the tree. He knew autumn would soon become winter. He prayed harder than ever that snow would come soon. Jeremy did too.

But November came, without any snow, and Jeremy’s family was ready to move. The boys decided that they wouldn’t cry, but it wasn’t easy. Even though Andrew knew Jeremy had to go, he felt deserted. Gathering pinecones wouldn’t be much fun without his best friend.

Snow fell the very next day after Jeremy left. Andrew moped around the house all morning. The more he thought about Jeremy, the worse he felt. Finally his mother suggested that he go out for a walk. He put on a jacket and went outside.

Crossing the bridge over the creek, Andrew missed Jeremy. Walking along the path into the woods, Andrew missed him too. But he missed Jeremy most when he was almost home and he came to the cherry tree. As Andrew solemnly stared at the tree, he spied a brown bag under it, partially hidden by snow and dead leaves. Hurriedly pushing aside the snow and the leaves, he lifted out the lumpy bag. As soon as he did, Andrew knew what was inside: pinecones! Jeremy had gathered them and left them there for him!

Andrew climbed up the cherry tree to a sturdy branch below the old secret-telling ones. He curled up into a comfortable position and daydreamed about his and Jeremy’s gift for the birds—a Christmas cherry tree decorated with pinecone ornaments of birdseed glitter and peanut-butter glue.

Illustrated by Shauna Mooney