Xena’s mom greeted us as soon as we arrived at her house. Her short black hair was pulled back with a crazy hot pink headband. She wore a black art apron over her clothes, and a paintbrush — with light brown watercolor dripping from the tip — was pinched between her fingers.
“Hi, Mama.” Xena smiled tightly at her mother. “Stephanie and I want to go camping. It’s OK with her mom, so . . .”
“A camping trip? What fun!” Mrs. Fletcher exclaimed, waving a welcome to me. “I’ll go get the tent and sleeping bags.” She slipped out of her art apron and laid it on the paint-splattered couch before bustling off.
Xena went into the basement and searched for camping equipment while I waited upstairs. She came back with water bottles, flashlights, food, plastic dishes, and more. I helped her pack.
When we’d crammed the supplies into our backpacks, I followed Xena upstairs, where she gathered clothes and a few toiletries.
Soon, everything was packed, and we were nearly ready to go.
“Girls, the tent is waiting on the porch,” Mrs. Fletcher announced, returning to the room. “I’m so excited to go camping with you! It’s been too long since our last trip.”
I glanced at Xena in alarm. Her mom was coming with us?!
Xena grabbed her olive green backpack by its straps. “Mama . . . we really wanted to go by ourselves. It’s a best friend thing. You won’t have to worry about us getting lost — Steph and I have explored the forest tons of times. Besides, I’ve got a map. Please?”
“I don’t know, sweetie . . .” Mrs. Fletcher sighed. After a moment, she conceded, “OK, fine. Just be careful, please. Don’t go too far. And make sure you’re back by three tomorrow afternoon, or you’re grounded!”
Before Mrs. Fletcher could issue more rules, my friend and I dashed outside. We stuffed the tent and blankets into a roomy orange bag. Xena agreed to carry it first.
“Bye, girls. Please be safe!” Mrs. Fletcher called from her position in the doorway.
“We will, Mrs. Fletcher.”/”OK, Mama!”
We set off for the woods.
A shiver ran up and down my spine. We were going to find Claire Fairfax. We were going to save her.
When we reached the woods, I paused and grabbed Claire’s compass necklace, which I’d put on for safekeeping. I remembered the words that had appeared in the ground earlier that day: The compass will guide you. It points to your heart’s desire. Think of me.
I took a deep breath. All I had to do was think about my missing best friend, and, somehow, the compass would lead us to her.
I closed my eyes and concentrated. I remembered meeting Claire in first grade, and how she was the only girl in the class brave enough to touch a mealworm. I remembered racing her across the playground, and how she had beat me by three seconds. How she’d given me a dozen hand painted rocks for my eighth birthday.
I cracked my eyes open. The compass arrow was spinning around in a blur. Finally, it came to a halt, pointing deeper into the woods. “Follow me,” I said to Xena, and marched off.
We hiked for hours, trading the compass back and forth. Eventually, we became too tired to keep going. Xena found a flat spot to camp in, and she set up the tent in the time that it took me to take off my boots. After an extremely unsatisfying dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we spread out our sleeping bags and crawled inside the tent.
We chatted quietly as the sun set.
“Claire’s message in the ground seemed rushed,” I noted. “Lots of short sentences. And she didn’t really explain stuff to us. Why do you think that was?”
Xena shrugged, wiggling around inside her sleeping bag. “I don’t know. She said she was in danger. Maybe she didn’t have time to talk.” She closed her eyes and yawned. “Goodnight, Stephanie.”
“Yeah. You too, Xe.”
I woke up the next morning and didn’t know where I was. I stared at the ceiling of the tent for several seconds before I remembered. I was camping with my one and only best friend, Xena Fletcher.
I stretched and pushed my dark brown bangs out of my face. Then I crawled out of the tent, where I found Xena sitting on a stump with a cup of tea. She looked really sad. What was eating her?
With my blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I padded across the dewy grass. “Morning, Xena,” I smiled. “Hey, is something wrong?”
She turned her huge turquoise eyes on me. “What do you think?” Xena swished the tea around inside her dark blue camping cup. “We should get going if we want to find Claire soon.”
“Huh?” I said. “Who’s Claire?”
Dun dun DUN! I hope you guys liked it! :D This series is so much fun to write.