The New Kid
Welcome to Noble's Green, Pennsylvania—
The Safest Town on Earth!
The safest town on earth? thought Daniel. Couldn't sound lamer.
Daniel Corrigan and his family saw the sign from their car just a few miles outside town. When it came into view, Daniel's father honked the horn of their minivan as his mother clapped her hands. Of course Daniel's baby brother, Georgie, had to join in, squealing with delight while kicking his plump legs against his car seat. Georgie was only two years old and he always just assumed that everyone was clapping for him, which was usually the case. Daniel's parents clapped when Georgie smiled or spoke or even burped.
Instead of joining in the applause, Daniel just buried his nose deeper in his book. His mom warned him over and over again that reading in the car would make him sick, but he did it anyway. The Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles was one of his favorites. Daniel had a thing for detective stories, and Sherlock Holmes was the best detective ever. Period. While Daniel was completely aware that a middle-aged, pipe-smoking British sleuth was not the typical hero of the average twelve-year-old boy, peer pressure meant little to him. He liked spending his time amidst the gaslit streets and horse-drawn carriages, the dangerous arch-criminals and, of course, trusty sidekick Dr. Watson.
Daniel sometimes wished for a trusty sidekick. All he had was Georgie, who was too young to be of much help in anything. With a sidekick like Georgie, not even Holmes would have solved many crimes, thought Daniel. He would have been too busy clapping all the time.
Besides, Daniel understood something that Georgie didn't--that his parents were clapping to get their minds off why they were moving in the first place. They were moving to Noble's Green because that was where Gram lived, and she was very, very sick. For Daniel, the best way to escape that sad fact was to disappear between the covers of a well-read book.
The moving truck was waiting for them by the time the family minivan turned onto Elm Lane, the Corrigan family's new address. The truck was backed into the driveway as far as it could reach--it was one of those big tractor-trailer types and the front cab stuck out into the street. He didn't understand why they would need all that stuff, even if they were going to be here for a long time. The thought of their old apartment sitting empty back in Philadelphia filled Daniel with a strange sadness.
When they pulled up, the movers were already unloading the truck.
"C'mon, Daniel," said his dad. "We'll let your mom go in and tell your gram that we're here. I'll give you the grand tour."
"Watch yourself getting out of the car, honey," said his mom as she unbuckled Georgie from his car seat. "The oncoming traffic can't see you with that big truck in the way."
His dad smiled as he gestured to the giant wraparound porch. "Pretty cool, huh?"
Gram's house was two stories tall, three if you counted the attic, and the whole thing was painted a sort of pale blue, with white doors and window frames.
"You'll get the attic bedroom--it's got a great view of the mountain--and Georgie will sleep in the one next to ours."
Daniel didn't say anything; he just focused on not looking impressed.
They ended their tour at the back of the house, next to a set of double doors. They were closed, but Daniel could hear the sound of laughter on the other side.
Daniel's father knocked very gently, and a small voice answered from the other side, "Come on in!"
His father put his hand on Daniel's shoulder and gave him a reassuring squeeze, then opened the door.
The master bedroom was bright and airy. Floor-to-ceiling windows covered two of the walls, and the light filtered down through the trees, shining in beams along the dark wood floor. A large four-poster bed sat in the middle, and there was a soft sofa against one of the windows. Daniel's mother was holding Georgie in her lap while a woman in a nurse's uniform perched on a stool, reading a women's magazine. And there, seated on the edge of the bed, was Gram. She looked thinner than he remembered and her hair seemed whiter, even though it had only been a few months since she had last visited them in Philadelphia. A small plastic hose extended from her nostrils to a tank around her waist, but she was smiling.
His father leaned down and whispered, "It's okay. Why don't you go and give your gram a hug?"
"I know. I look like something out of a movie, hooked up to all these contraptions. Robo-Gram," she said.
Daniel's initial trepidation melted away when he saw Gram wink in his direction. She might not look as strong as he remembered, but she sounded just like her old self.
He walked over and wrapped his arms around her. His gram used to smell of stale perfume and hair spray, but now she smelled of something he didn't recognize, something mediciney. Daniel could feel the bones of her rib cage through her shirt.
She must have read Daniel's mind. "Yeah, I'm as skinny as a bird, aren't I? It's the food they've got me on. No one around here understands the healing power of fat and grease! But together, maybe we can convince them. What do you say to some burgers and fries?"
Daniel smiled as she patted his cheek. "You bet!" he answered. "Milkshakes?"
"Well, of course! Milkshakes go without saying."
They went on like that for a while, with Gram teasing and making Daniel laugh. It wasn't until Georgie started to get restless that Daniel's mother decided to break up the fun.
"Daniel, why don't you take your little brother outside for a bit? Let us talk for a while."
From the Hardcover edition.