Stacey and Noah cuddled up on the sofa, poring over a book together one Friday evening – it was the best time of day. Legs outstretched; her feet rested next to a small heap of pebbles on a wooden trunk.

Noah suddenly stopped reading, his sea-blue eyes shining brightly. “Hey, you’re not going to sleep are you, Mum?”

“No, of course not,” she replied, guiltily rubbing tiredness from her eyes. Feeling weary after a hectic stint as a receptionist at their local dental surgery, she had almost drifted off listening to her endearing son’s tones delivering the words in staccato. “You’re doing really well,” she enthused.

He beamed and pressed his finger against the page under the heading of ‘Mini Beasts Adventure.’ This time, she concentrated and listened keenly.

“Great reading, Noah,” Stacey said, when he had finished, and signed the homework record book. “Now, what would you like for tea?” Since splitting up with Adam two years ago, she made a fuss of Noah on the weekend he wasn’t staying with her ex and his new wife, Vanessa. They had met and married a few months after Stacey and Adam’s separation. It didn’t seem fair, Stacey hardly went out socially, let alone having the chance to meet someone else.

“Can we do some painting before tea?”  Noah asked as Stacey walked through to the kitchen.

“I don’t see why not. Aren’t you hungry, though?” She swung the fridge door open and gazed inside.

Noah came over, stood on a stool, and picked out a pack of ravioli. “Yum, yum. Can we have this please – Mum?”  The two glanced at each other, squealing with laughter at his impromptu rhyme.

“It won’t take long to cook once we’ve finished our art mission ready for tomorrow. Mind you, we’ll have to wrap up warm – frost is forecast,” she said, as he hopped down from the stool.

“We’ll paint them, then they can dry while we are eating. Then they will be ready for varnishing,” Stacey added. As Noah skipped over to the breakfast bar, she rapped the worktop with her knuckles. “Come on, help me lay some newspaper out please.”

Back at the trunk, she tumbled the pebbles into a shoebox full of tubes, bottles, and paintbrushes before taking and positioning them all in front of Noah.

“Let’s get busy.” He eagerly selected pebbles, “I’m going to do woodland animals. Hedgehogs, frogs, and dormice first, they’re the ones that hibernate. I don’t want people to forget about them throughout winter. And I’ll do two of each. One for the park and the second one for presents,” he circled his brush around in the paint and sang. “The animals walked in two by two. Hurrah, hurrah!”

Stacy opened her laptop. “Noah’s a good name for you. You’re always painting animals,” she said, as he dabbed his brush rhythmically on the stony surface, and focussed on creating a hedgehog that ended up lopsided. Stacey’s eyes glowed with pride as she watched her seven-year-old son.

“I’ll write the ‘FaceBook Pineberry Park Pebbles and Stones’ details on the back when you are finished,” she held up a permanent marker. Their hobby was popular on social media. Turning her laptop on, she found the internet page.’ “Let’s see what’s going on, here.”


Louise breathed in the crisp fresh air. Jemima, her granddaughter skipped ahead along the path of Pineberry Park, her red spotty wellington boots glistening with frost.

Side by side, Louise and Peter kept their heads bent against an icy breeze as they tramped along. “Don’t run too far ahead, Jems,” Louise called. Just through the gate, the eight-year-old spun around and waved.

“Grandparenthood is the best feeling in the world,” Louise rejoiced.

“I wish I could bottle some of her energy,” Peter joked. “Just look at her, she’s full of beans.”

Although camellias were forming buds ready for spring, the flowerbeds were quite barren. Noticing a dash of colour, Louise turned to Peter. “What’s that?” She poked it with her trekking stick.

“Unusual,” Peter exclaimed, rubbing his chin. “I wonder if someone’s lost it?”

Louise bent down. “I don’t think so. It seems to have been deliberately placed.”

“Jemima!” Louise beckoned. “Come. See what we’ve found.”

Jemima hunkered down. “Hey, that’s so pretty,” she smoothed her finger on the varnished finish of a jolly fat frog and turned the pebble in her hand.

Louise read aloud. “‘Keep me, hide me, replace me. The next clue is near the orangery entrance. FaceBook: Pineberry Park Pebbles and Stones.’” She pressed the information into her phone. “There you go.” Holding it down to Jemima’s level, she showed the little girl. Peter peered over Louise’s shoulder, his citrus aftershave mingling pleasantly with the park’s woody scents.

“Yay! Nanna Lou, that’s exciting,” Jemima clapped as she looked at the phone where a row of pebble images adorned the top of the screen. Underneath was an image of a woman in her late thirties, and her son, going by their matching grins and auburn hair.

The introduction summarised. ‘Join in the family entertainment. Catch the creative bug, exercise, and enjoy the fresh air.’

“See here.” Jemima pointed to other photographs. “It shows this pebble in the camellia avenue where we found it.”

Peter took the phone and slipped his glasses to the tip of his nose. “Pebble locations are written on the backs of others. People have snapped photos and posted them on the ‘FaceBook’ page. There are lots more animals that this smart duo has laid around the park.”

“I’ll put this fellow back where he belongs.” Jemima kissed the frog pebble, and Louise took a photograph as her granddaughter put it back on the soil.

“Before uploading anything,” Louise continued. “We must check everything’s in order.”

Jemima nodded in agreement after learning about Internet safety at school. “Do you think we could paint our own? Then we could leave some as well.”

“Don’t see why not. It’ll be something we can all do together,” Peter agreed. “It’s a great idea!”

Louise thought so as well. Since moving to the area, Jemima missed old friends. It would be a different means of meeting others. “Do you think blank pebbles are easy to trace? Not all beaches will allow their shores to be raided and our garden only has a few,” Louise considered, pressing her lips together.

“I’ve seen them for sale in garden centres, they’re cheap,” advised Peter, who did the garden at home.

“That’s all sorted then. Come on.” Jemima shouted over her shoulder and ran to the orangery.

The building’s glass glinted, and bracken grew on either side of the main door. “There’s another one hiding here, just as instructed.” Louise knelt down, split the stems apart to reveal a small stone with a dormouse painted on it. Lifting it, she gave it to Jemima.

“His whiskers look very life-like,” Jemima expressed, showing it to Peter.

“It’s all very interesting,” he said looking intrigued.  

In the distance, animated conversation and laughter floated to them on the wind.

“Someone’s having fun.” Louise shielded her eyes from the sun and stared in the direction of where the voices were coming from.

“What’re you looking for, Nanna Lou?” Jemima looked puzzled.

“Down there,” motioned Peter, waving his arm in the direction of grassland.

In a field of deer, they saw a woman and a boy kneeling by a bench. Groups and couples – a man walking his dog, all ambled nearby, but this pair appeared purposeful.

“Do you know,” Louise stepped forward. “I think they’re the ones from the pebbles and stones thingummy-jig.”

“It is them.” Jemima read the clue on the back. “‘Deer-field, bench.’”

“I wonder if we can catch up with the pebble people,” Peter said marching off. “Come on girls, keep up,” he instructed jovially, turning around. Louise hadn’t seen that sparkle in his eyes for years. They caught up with him, and Jemima grasped each of their hands as they all trooped off in search of the latest pebble and the pebble people. Louise rather liked the appearance of them. Maybe, a new friend for Jemima, and if she had anything to do with it – someone for Peter too.


The tumbledown folly, although picturesque, was damp and mildew stained inside. Stacey shivered. “There are lots of nooks and crannies here,” she said unzipping her backpack.

Noah rifled through the contents and picked one out, then climbed to an arched opening. “There.” High up on a ledge, he balanced a stone with a squirrel portrayed on top. Its tail was bushy and out of proportion with its body – Stacey couldn’t help giggling.

In a desolate part of the grounds where they hadn’t hidden anything before was ideal.

Thinking she could hear a noise, Stacey listened carefully. Footsteps gradually drew closer, followed by chatter. Then there was a scuffle outside the gothic-shaped doorway, and without warning, a girl charged through, face beaming. “I’ve found them,” she shouted back to a woman with grey curls entering the folly.

Alarmed, Stacey stepped backward. Noah leapt down and landed with a thump to the well-trodden earth beside the girl. She was a whole head taller than him, but that didn’t stop him hollering. “You made us jump. What did you do that for?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” she responded, looking stunned by his outburst.

“Not to worry,” Stacey intervened with a calm air. “No harm’s been done. It’s just that we’re on a type of – secret mission,” she whispered in an exaggerated mysterious way and tapped the side of her nose.

The older woman explained. “We know you are. I’m Louise and this is my granddaughter Jemima. We’ve become fans of your pebble game. Thanks for the hours of amusement this morning following your trail.” Turning around, she gestured towards a David Tennant look-alike, stamping his feet. “And, this is Jemima’s dad, my son, Peter.”

“Really?” Stacey stuttered. Heat rose from her neck to cheeks. “I meant – I’m pleased to meet you.”

“We’d like to join your pebbles and stones group if you’ll let us?” Peter squeezed Jemima’s shoulders affectionately from behind.

“That’s OK, Mum, isn’t it?” Noah appealed, sidling sheepishly closer to Jemima. “And what about your Mum. Will she be joining too?”

Louise stepped forward and spoke kindly. “Jemima’s Mummy died when she was three.”

Stacey’s stomach cartwheeled. Just when they were hitting it off, Noah had tugged at a raw nerve but she ceased fretting when Peter stooped down to Jemima and Noah. “It was a long time ago. We miss her dearly, but she told us beforehand that we must move on with our lives one day,” he said softly, and caught Stacey’s eye in a ‘don’t worry about it, fashion.’

“My dad isn’t with us either. He’s lives with Vanessa now,” Noah replied. “I’m sorry for shouting.” The two children grinned broadly at each other as if they had been friends forever.

Jemima enlightened them about their first pebble discovery and how they had spotted Noah and Stacey in the deer field. And when she saw them close-up, she couldn’t stop herself from bursting into the folly. The ruined building echoed with laughter. Stacey couldn’t believe how well they all gelled. Dare she be bold enough to ask if they wanted to join in with another expedition the next day?


It was a silver and blue-sky Sunday afternoon and snowflakes flurried between bouts of sunshine. The maze was a mixture of tall hedge passages and dead ends. Noah wedged his bent-eared rabbit pebble between privet leaves. Jemima was adjacent. “Hey, I like your unicorn,” he encouraged when she reached up and slotted it between branches.

“It’s beautiful,” Stacey concurred. “The metallic finish works well with a fantasy theme.”

“It’s nail varnish,” Louise told them. “We’ll buy some acrylic paints in the week. We were so eager to paint after breakfast and couldn’t wait for the shops to open.”

“Where’s Daddy? My pebbles are in his pocket.” Jemima ran back to the last row of evergreens, but he wasn’t there.

“He was close behind us just now.” Stacey squinted over her shoulder, eyebrows gathered, she wondered where he’d vanished to? Chatting at length, he’d been attentive, and she found him charming in a non-slushy manner. “One minute he was here, the next gone,” she ended and then felt her phone vibrate.

“I think Jemima’s dad’s got lost. That would be funny,” Noah kidded, with head cocked to one side.

Peter startled them at the next junction. “Boo. I’m here?” Pulling his coat collar around his ears, Stacey’s heartbeat thrummed as she checked her phone. A mystery lurked there. A photograph of a yellow-topped pebble placed in shrubbery a few minutes ago – by Peter. Judging by the lens angle, it was nestled on a hedge-top, out of children’s reach. Clouds behind it were a sign that it wasn’t far away. So, that’s where he had disappeared to?

She decided to seek it out alone. Reaching up on tiptoes, she brushed the prickly flora with her fingertips. Cool and firm, she clasped grey multi-flecks crested with a yellow smiley face in precise brushstrokes. On the base, she read, ‘Stacey, would you like to meet up for dinner one evening? Yours Truly, Pete.’ Holding it tightly, she turned around. Peter walked forward, shyly at first, but his expression quickly changed to a mischievous smile. “The answer is yes,” she murmured. “What about next weekend? We could go for a stone-baked pizza followed by rocky road dessert.”