EMMY ADDISON was an ordinary girl--almost.
She had straight dark hair, skinny legs with a scrape on one knee, and no particular talent that she knew of. If you didn't count the fact that her parents were rich (very), her best friend was a boy (and a soccer star), and she could talk to rodents (and they talked back), she was very ordinary indeed.
She hadn't been ordinary for long, but even just a few weeks were enough to convince her that she didn't want to be any other way. Since the middle of May, her teacher had actually remembered her name at school. The other kids had played with her at recess. And her parents had eaten supper with her, and asked how her day had been, and reminded her to brush her teeth, in the most normal way possible.
Emmy didn't want it to end.
So she made a list of all the things an ordinary ten-and-a-half-year-old should do during the summer. She posted it beside her bedroom window--theone in the turret--and she'd already managed to cross the first thing off the list. "Build a tree fort," it said, and just yesterday, she and her friend Joe had finished the best tree fort ever.
It was high--too high, her mother had worried, but her father had checked it for sturdiness, added a brace, and pronounced it safe. It was tucked snugly between three branches of the tallest oak in the woods behind Emmy's house, and from its platform she could look out over Grayson Lake and see sailboats skimming on Loon's Bay. Just now, though, she was flat on her stomach with her head hanging over the edge, watching Joe sprint up the path.
"Hiya!" Joe skidded to a stop beneath the big oak, a pale-haired boy in a blue soccer jersey and grass-stained shorts, and grinned up at Emmy, waiting.
"Password?" Emmy demanded.
"Oh, yeah. Um ... Rat Fink?"
"No, that was yesterday's." Emmy propped her chin on her forearms.
Joe scratched his freckled nose. "Hamster Hocks?"
Joe shot a glance over his shoulder. "Come on,Emmy. I dodged my little brother two blocks ago, but he's faster on his pudgy feet than he used to be."
"It's Mouse Droppings," Emmy said resignedly, throwing down one end of the rope ladder. "You'd think you could remember a password you thought up yourself."
"Sorr-ry," said Joe, grabbing the rope. "I've remembered a message for you, though."
Emmy looked down at him warily. "Who from?"
Emmy winced inwardly. How many girls, she wondered, got messages from chipmunks?
"She asked," Joe added, swaying as he climbed, "why you haven't come to visit. She has a new recipe for acorn soup, and says you're welcome anytime."
Emmy felt uncomfortable. She didn't want to seem ungrateful to the rodents who had helped her. Without the chipmunks, and the Rat, and all the rest, she would never have been able to get rid of Miss Barmy, the nanny who had nearly ruined her life.
But girls who visited chipmunks were--well, weird. It was okay for Joe; he was popular, he was the best athlete in the school, and everyone had known him since kindergarten; but for Emmy it was different.
She had been new at Grayson Lake Elementary last fall, when her parents had moved to the stone mansion on Loon's Bay. That was hard enough, but then Miss Barmy had used some unusual rodents to make Emmy's classmates, her teacher, and even her own parents forget that she existed. Emmy hadn't understood why her parents had suddenly seemed to stop caring about her or why all her attempts to make friends at school met with a blank stare.
If she hadn't discovered that Raston Rat, their fourth-grade class pet, had unusual powers, too; if she and Joe hadn't become friends, and shrunk to rat size; if they hadn't gone underground to Rodent City, where they joined forces with Professor Capybara and the chipmunks--then Miss Barmy might have succeeded in her plan to get rid of Emmy's parents, steal their money, and lock Emmy up for good in the Home for Troubled Girls.
But all had turned out well. Miss Barmy and her follower, Cheswick Vole, had been changed into rats themselves, Emmy's parents had become loving once more, and the kids at school had been as friendly as could be expected toward a girl they thought they'd just met. Still, though Emmy had had several weeksof being an ordinary kid, she had a lot of catching up to do before fifth grade.
She wanted to do regular ten-year-old things--go to birthday parties, and have sleepovers, and swim and bike and jump off swings in the park. She wanted to start fifth grade with a hundred friends--or, at any rate, more than one or two. She was going to be too busy this summer to spend time with a bunch of rodents, because she absolutely refused to go through another school year feeling lonely and invisible.
And of course there were a few more reasons why she wasn't keen on visiting Rodent City.
The tree house creaked as Joe clambered over the edge. "Free at last!"
"Did you win your game?" Emmy gazed idly at her house through the leaves, and her window in the topmost turret.
"Both games," said Joe gloomily. "So now we have to play two more tomorrow, before the championship." He rolled on his back to toss twigs at the large branch that overhung the platform. "At least I don't have to go to California on Monday. The soccer camp Dad tried to sign me up for was full."
"If you're sick of playing soccer," said Emmy reasonably, "just stop."
"It's not that I don't want to play. I just don't want to play every stupid day all year long, that's all." Joe sat up abruptly, his eye caught by a knothole above him. "It's funny," he said, "but ever since that stuff happened--you know, shrinking and all--"
Emmy nodded impatiently. Of course she knew.
"I like to check out every rat-sized crack I see." He chinned himself on the overhanging branch and pressed his eye to the hole.
Emmy leaned back. "Can you see anything?"
"Too dark. Next time I'll bring a flashlight."
"We should have a box up here for that kind of stuff. Flashlights--"
"And batteries," added Joe, dropping down with a thump.
"Hammer and nails," Emmy said, "and Band-Aids."
"Regular books, too," said Emmy, "especially ones about sailing--like Swallows and Amazons--"
"An astronomy book, so we can steer by the stars."
"I've got a telescope!" Emmy sat up. "We could use it for a spyglass--"
"And look out for pirates--"
"And buried treasure!"
"We'll make the pirates walk the plank, or"--Joe gripped his throat with both hands--"hang them from the yardarm."
Emmy rolled over to the edge, feeling for the ladder. "I'll get the spyglass."
"Get a bottle of ginger ale--no, grog--," Joe called, "and we can christen the ship!"
Emmy slammed the kitchen door behind her, sprinted up the stairs, and nearly collided with Maggie on the second-floor landing.
"Sorry," said Emmy, edging past the housemaid, who was emptying wastebaskets.
Maggie smiled broadly. "That's all right; I like to see a child run. It's better than watching you sit with your hands folded."
Emmy flushed. "I just did that when Miss Barmy made me act like a lady."
Maggie chuckled, pulling a section of the Grayson Lake News from one of the stacks. "Take a look; I saved this for you. Time enough to act like a lady when you're grown up and can wear these." She pointed to the society-column headline.
Emmy glanced at a picture of her parents, read "Addison Family Sapphires on Display at Grayson Lake Jewelers," and lost interest. She knew she was rich--Mr. and Mrs. Addison had inherited a lot of money a year ago, when her great-great-uncle William had died--but except for living in a house that looked like a castle, which was cool, she found the subject boring. "Maggie, please could I have a bottle of ginger ale? We want to christen the tree fort."
"That's a fine idea," said Maggie comfortably. "I'll check the pantry."
On a blue-painted windowsill in the northeast turret of the Addison mansion, a glossy black rat lay panting. He had never been in the best of shape, even when he was a human. Now that he was a rat, all the tunneling and gnawing and climbing that seemed to be expected of him was a bit much.
"You're getting too old for this, Cheswick," he muttered to himself.
But of course he was doing it for his darling Barmsie, whom he had adored for years. True, she was now quite a bit shorter than she had been--and hairier--with a prominent set of whiskers. And though her piebald blotches were interesting, and her long tailwas certainly nice and pink, she was no longer the beauty queen of former days.
But she was still his precious tulip, and he was glad to do anything she asked. Just now he was on a daring mission into enemy territory. Cheswick grasped the window-blind cord, slid into Emmy's bedroom, and trotted into the playroom. He took a brown rucksack from his shoulders and waded manfully into a pile of doll clothes.
He was stuffing whatever he could reach into his sack--a green-and-gold track suit, a glittery evening gown, a white fluffy thing he couldn't identify--when a vibration in the floor sent a shiver through his claws.
The black rat lifted his head alertly. Someone was pounding up the stairs, someone gigantic. He dropped the rucksack at once. If he had learned one thing in his few weeks as a rat, it was to avoid anyone who was large and thumping. In a moment, all that could be seen of him was his tail, disappearing beneath a toy chest; and in one moment more, the only sign of his presence was a small sack half full of Barbie clothes.
Emmy skidded into the playroom, dropped the newspaper, and rummaged in her toy chest. Notelescope there ... She checked in the science cupboard, and the art cabinet, and behind the carved Austrian dollhouse. It wasn't on any of the shelves lining the room from floor to ceiling; and it wasn't rolling among the balls and hockey sticks. Emmy peered inside all twenty-three Lego bins, and wished (not for the first time) that she didn't have so many toys. It was embarrassing when people came to visit; and when she tried to find something, it took forever.
Emmy turned in a circle. Now, if she were a telescope, where would she hide?
She gazed at her model train set with its miniature town, and then her eyes returned to the toy chest. Might it have rolled under there?
Emmy reached beneath. "Come on, spyglass," she muttered, and gave a cry of triumph as she grasped something long and skinny. She pulled it out, covered in dust, and sneezed.
It was not the telescope after all. It was Miss Barmy's old cane, the cane she had whittled herself. It was carved with little faces, their hair intertwined and their expressions pleading, and Emmy recoiled as she saw it.
Miss Barmy had told her that they were the faces of girls she had taken care of. She had said that she was saving a blank patch for Emmy's face, someday ...
Every grown-up who had seen the cane told Emmy she was lucky to have such a creative nanny. But something about the little faces had always bothered Emmy; and, whatever might have happened to the other girls carved on the cane, Emmy was terribly glad it had not happened to her.
Emmy stalked to her window, lifted the screen, and hurled the cane over the lawn and straight at the trees. She watched with deep satisfaction as the awful thing speared into a bush at the edge of the woods.
Good. Let it stay there and rot.
A small grating sound drew Emmy's eyes back to the playroom as the telescope rolled slowly out from beneath the toy chest.
Emmy looked at it, startled. How--? Oh, it must have been dislodged by the cane that she'd just pulled out. She jammed the spyglass into an old backpack and ran down to the pantry with a light heart.
"Here you go," said Maggie, tucking a plastic bottle in Emmy's backpack. "Now, don't forget, Emmy--come in early tonight. There's company coming."
"Who is it, Maggie?"
"Peter Peebles. You do remember Mr. Peebles, don't you?"
Emmy grimaced. She remembered him, all right. He was the lawyer who had helped Miss Barmy draw up the papers she had tried to get Emmy's parents to sign--papers that would have sent Emmy to the Home for Troubled Girls and given Miss Barmy total control if Emmy's parents died.
"Now, child, don't make a face. You know that Mr. Peebles was tricked right along with your parents."
Emmy nodded politely. But deep down, she couldn't help feeling that anyone who would help a person like Miss Barmy had to have something wrong with him.
"And don't you worry about that horrible Miss Barmy, either," said Maggie. "She's long gone and far away, and she's not likely to bother you ever again."
Two stories up, Cheswick brushed off his paws (the spyglass had been dusty), pattered onto the newspaperEmmy had left behind, and read slowly, swinging his dark furry head from side to side.
He bared his yellow incisors and clipped out the society column with small, neat bites. And a moment later he shouldered the rucksack and was on his way to his beloved Miss Barmy, who was not nearly so far away as Maggie believed.
EMMY AND THE HOME FOR TROUBLED GIRLS. Text copyright © 2008 by Lynne Jonell. Illustrations copyright © 2008 by Jonathan Bean. All rights reserved. Distributed in Canada by H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd. For information, address Square Fish, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.