Amber awoke to a beautiful spring morning with the sound of birds outside her window. She pulled back the curtain to look at the nest in the sycamore tree. Earlier in the spring, she had watched as two parents-to-be built their nest from pieces of dry grass and straw. The male bird was orange and black, and the female was black and yellow. Both birds had black wings with white stripes. Amber’s dad said that he thought they were orioles. But he took Amber to the library to get a bird book so they could find out for sure. After reading about all the different types, they decided the birds must be hooded orioles. The black face and orange head that looked like a hood kind of gave it away. In her sketchbook, Amber had drawn several pictures of the birds, some flying and some sitting on a branch.
In the nest, Amber could see five bluish-gray eggs with black specks. The male was sitting on the nest, but Amber knew that the two birds took turns. A few weeks after they had spotted the birds in the tree, Amber’s mom brought home an oriole feeder, which she hung in another tree in the backyard. Other birds used the feeder as well, but Amber could always pick out her pair.
The smell of pancakes brought Amber down to breakfast. Her mom made pancakes almost every Saturday. After breakfast, she would have to do her Saturday chores. This week, it was cleaning the bathrooms. Her mother always cleaned the kitchen and did the laundry. Amber, Kyle, and their dad rotated the other chores. Today Kyle had to vacuum, and Dad was dusting.
As Amber walked outside to begin pulling weeds in the front yard, she saw two girls on bikes, riding toward her house. As they came closer, she recognized her two best friends, Melissa Peterson and Laura Thomas. Both girls were dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Melissa was almost a foot taller than Laura and Amber. She had her long straight blond hair pulled back and held by a clip with a flower on it. Laura’s short brown hair was covered by a baseball cap.
Her friends left their bikes in the driveway and started across the grass to where Amber was. They were both pulling gloves out of their pockets and putting them on.
“We’re here to help you with the weeds,” Laura said. “Then maybe you can go with us to the pond.”
“I’ll have to ask my mom,” Amber said with a smile. “But I’m pretty sure she will let me.”
“What’s Kyle doing today?” Melissa wanted to know.
“He’s going to Fox Creek with some of his friends,” Amber told her. “He’s in there packing a lunch right now. I think he’s taking Domino with him.”
“Maybe we could go to Fox Creek too,” Melissa said hopefully.
“I know my mom would say no to that,” Amber shook her head.
“Mine too,” Laura chimed in. “Fox Creek is definitely out-of-bounds for me.”
About a half hour later, Amber pulled out the last weed from the front yard. She carried the bag of weeds over to the trash can.
“That didn’t take long at all,” Laura said.
“No, it didn’t,” Amber agreed. “I’ve got an idea. Yesterday, I met Mrs. Jenkins. She lives on Hope Street, and I was walking past her house when she asked me to get her newspaper out of the bushes.”
“She must have the same paperboy we have,” Melissa interrupted. “Derrick Carson. He always throws our paper in the bushes too.”
“Well, anyway,” Amber continued, “Mrs. Jenkins seems really nice, and I noticed she has some weeds in her yard. She couldn’t bend down to get her newspaper, so it’s probably hard for her to pull weeds. Maybe we could do that for her before we go down to the pond.”
Melissa and Laura both agreed that would be a good thing to do. After Amber checked in with her mom, the three girls got on their bikes and headed for Mrs. Jenkins’s house. They found her sitting in the glider on her front porch.
“Mrs. Jenkins,” Amber called out as she laid her bike down, “these are my friends, Melissa and Laura. We’ve been pulling weeds in my yard, and we thought you might like some help with your weeds.”
“That is a very nice offer, but are you sure that’s what you want to be doing on a fine Saturday morning?”
“It won’t take long,” Laura assured her. “And we love to help people.”
“In that case,” Mrs. Jenkins said, “I think I’ll take you up on your offer. That is, if you’ll have some lemonade and cookies with me when you’re done.”
“That’s a deal,” the girls responded with glee.
Amber, Melissa, and Laura started to work on the lawn, and Mrs. Jenkins went into the house. It hadn’t rained for quite a while, so there weren’t too many weeds. It didn’t take the girls long to finish. When Mrs. Jenkins returned, she was carrying a tray with a pitcher of lemonade, four glasses, and a plate of cookies. When Melissa saw her trying to get through the door with the tray, she ran over to help.
“Let me take that for you,” Melissa said. “Those cookies smell awfully good.”
“It’s my special recipe for chocolate chip cookies,” Mrs. Jenkins told her. “No one can ever guess my secret ingredient.” She told the girls to go inside and wash their hands. Then she poured the lemonade into glasses.
“These are the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had,” Amber said. “What is your secret ingredient?”
“I can’t tell you.” Mrs. Jenkins smiled a sly smile. “Or it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?”
“We wouldn’t tell anyone,” Laura pleaded.
“Sorry, you’ll just have to try guessing.”
“Is it cinnamon?” suggested Melissa.
“No, any other guesses?”
“What about nutmegan?” added Amber.
“You mean nutmeg,” Laura corrected. “I think it’s something exotic like cardamom.”
“Good guesses,” said Mrs. Jenkins, “but you’re all wrong.”
For a few moments, everyone ate the cookies in silence. Then Mrs. Jenkins said, “The yard looks much better. I don’t know how to thank you girls. When my husband, Paul, was alive, he always took such good care of our lawn. If a weed popped up, he would snatch it out of the ground right away. I think the weeds finally gave up and decided not to grow in our yard. Since I’ve had to use this cane, I haven’t been able to keep up like he did. I hire a neighbor boy to mow the lawn once a month. That’s about all I can manage.”
The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon