Where am I? Ashley Brown wondered, rubbing her eyes and looking around the room. She was lying in her own bed, that was certain. The toys on the shelf beside the cupboard were hers, but the window was too high, and the door was green.
Then Ashley remembered. She gave a sad sigh and turned on her side. She and Mum and Dad had moved to a new house, and she had left all her friends behind in Clayton.
Slowly Ashley got out of bed and walked to the window. Tall trees shaded the house. The street was empty—except for a girl walking up the sidewalk to Ashley’s house! Ashley pressed her face against the window. The girl had blond hair and was dressed in jeans and a red shirt. She looked up, grinned, and propped up a paper on a porch chair. Then she ran into the park at the corner of the street.
“I wonder what that girl is up to,” Ashley murmured.
After dressing quickly, she hurried downstairs, opened the front door, and grabbed the piece of paper. She read:
“Take twenty-four steps beside the road—You’ll come to a stone that looks like a toad.”
“Mum! Mum!” Ashley called, running into the kitchen. “Look what I found on our front porch.”
Mum was making toast and putting out her special strawberry jam. She read the note while Ashley ate.
“I saw a girl put it there,” Ashley said between gulps of milk. “She was wearing a red shirt, and she had blond hair.”
“How about if I sit on the porch and watch while you find the toad stone?” Mum suggested. She smiled and gave Ashley a big hug as they went out.
Very carefully, Ashley counted twenty-four long steps. And there, right in front of her, was a strange stone. It was high and round. A smaller stone had been placed in front of it, like a head. Ashley smiled. It did look like a toad!
Under the smaller stone was another piece of paper. Ashley read:
She waved to Mum and held up the new message. Then she crossed the street to the tree. It was dark in the shadow of the green branches. Where’s the next verse? she wondered. On a low branch, Ashley found it. She read:
“Why, the bus stop is right across the street from our house!” Ashley laughed as she realized that she’d been walking in a big square. She ran to the bench and looked under it. Sure enough, there was a folded note taped to the bench. She sat on the bench and read:
Walking down the lane that led to the bus stop, Ashley looked up at the sky. Soon she saw the maple tree.
All at once she felt shy. What if the girl in the red shirt doesn’t like me? Ashley stood up tall and straightened her shoulders. I wanted a friend, so I’ll have to act friendly, she decided as she hurried over to the tree.
Suddenly she heard a swooshing sound. The end of a rope ladder dropped from the leaves and hung against the bark of the tree trunk.
This was exciting! Ashley put her foot on the bottom loop. It sagged under her weight and swayed back and forth. She grasped both sides of the ladder and started up, her heart beating quickly. When the ladder ended, she squinted and looked around, trying to see where she was. Just above her was a wooden platform. And looking down at her, smiling, was the girl in the red shirt.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Erica Greer. I watched the movers carrying in your furniture. I was sure glad to see you.”
“Hi. I’m Ashley Brown.” As she climbed onto the platform, she saw that it was the floor of a terrific tree house. The roof and sides were made of plastic, and the whole thing was secured to branches of the tree. In one corner was a wooden box with a lid. Erica opened it and took out a tin of cookies, two paper cups, and a bottle of fruit juice.
“I told my mum about the clues and everything,” Erica said, pouring Ashley a cup of juice. “She made us this picnic before going across the street to visit with your mother.”
Ashley munched on a cookie. “I just thought of something,” she said.
“What?” Erica asked.
“No matter where you go, you can make friends—especially if you have friendly clues to follow.”