Lily Robbins didn't have to look up from the pizza boxes she was carrying to know that voice. It was Shad Shifferdecker, the most obnoxious kid in the entire sixth grade. She tossed her mane of red hair and, as usual, ignored him.
And, as usual, he persisted. That was one of the things that made him so obnoxious.
"Snobbins!" he hissed again. "Are you gonna eat all that pizza yourself? Dude!"
Lily just kept moving toward the door of Little Caesars. Just a couple more steps and I'll be away from the absurd little creep, she told herself. And the sooner, the better.
She leaned against the glass door and pushed herself out into the January-freezing air.
"See ya tomorrow," Shad said behind her. "If you can get through the classroom door—" The Little Caesars door slapped shut, and Lily hurried toward the maroon van where her mom was waiting with the motor running and the heater blasting. Even though Lily couldn't hear him anymore, she knew Shad wasn't finished with her. He never was.
Don't look back, she warned herself. Or you'll see something gross.
Still, just as she reached the van, she caught a glimpse of her mom's face. It was twisted up into a question mark as she stared inside Little Caesars. Lily couldn't help it. She glanced over her shoulder—and immediately wished she hadn't.
There was Shad, at the door, his whole jacket crammed inside his T-shirt and his cheeks puffed out to three times their normal size so that he looked like a demented version of the Pillsbury Doughboy.
You are so not funny! Lily wanted to shout at him. Instead she flipped her head around and stomped toward the van.
Or at least she tried to. On her second step, her heel slid on the ice, and she careened crazily forward, juggling pizza boxes and heading for a collision with the frozen ground.
The pizzas hit first, with Lily landing right on top of them. Through the box she could feel the warmth of the grease against her cheek. The smell of pepperoni went right up her nose.
Above her she could hear the van window on the passenger side going down.
"You all right, Lil?" Mom said.
"Yeah," Lily answered through her teeth.
"Is the pizza all right?"
Lily moaned and peeled herself off the pile of slightly flattened boxes. "I bet all the toppings are stuck to the cardboard now," she said.
"Don't worry about it," Mom said. "Just get in the van before you freeze your buns off—and our dinner gets cold."
Lily did, although she wasn't as worried about her buns or the pizza as she was about the story Shad Shifferdecker was going to spread to their whole class tomorrow. But she didn't even risk a glance inside Little Caesars as she climbed into the van and examined the top pizza.
"I think it's okay," she said while Mom was backing out of the parking place and mercifully leaving Shad behind. "Just some pepperoni stuck to the lid, but I can peel that off."
"And I would if I were you," Mom said dryly, "before your brothers get a look at it and want to know what happened."
"Mom, please don't—"
"How much is it worth to you for me to keep my mouth shut?"
Mom's mouth was twitching the way it always did when she was teasing. She would try hard not to smile, but the twinkle in her big, brown doe-eyes always gave her away.
"You're not gonna tell," Lily said.
"Who was that delightful child in the pizza place?" Mom said, lips still twitching. "Friend of yours?"
"No, he is not! Gross!"
"Come on, now, Lil. Don't hold back. Tell me how you really feel."
"I can't stand Shad Shifferdecker," Lily said, inspecting pizza number two. "He cannot leave me alone. He's in my face all the time, telling me my hair looks like it's on fire or my mouth looks like Angelina Jolie's or my skin's so white it blinds him when I'm out in the sun."
"Charming," Mom said. "And how's the pizza? Art will go ballistic if his sausage is mixed up with his Canadian bacon."
Lily pried open the lid to the pizza on the bottom and wrinkled her nose. "How do you know whether it's messed up or not?" she said. "It always looks like somebody already ate it to me, with all that stuff on there—"
"Lily! Hold on!"
Mom's arm flew out toward Lily and flattened against her chest. Swerving sharply, it suddenly felt as if the van were out of control. Lily looked up just in time to see a pair of taillights in front of them disappear as their van spun around. Headlights glared in their faces.
"Mom!" Lily screamed.
She squeezed her eyes shut and, for some reason she could never figure out, clutched the pizza boxes against her. She felt the van lurch to a stop, and she waited for the crash that was surely going to kill them both. But all she heard was her mother's gasp.
"Oh, dear Lord!"
Lily opened her eyes again. The other car had spun once more and was sailing across the road, straight toward a pickup truck coming from the other direction. As Lily and her mother watched, the two vehicles slammed together and crumpled like ... like two pizza boxes.
Metal smashed. Glass broke. And then it was as quiet as snow itself.
"Dear Lord," Mom said again. Only this time her voice was quiet and grim as she reached for the cell phone and punched in three numbers.
"Do you think anybody got hurt?" Lily said.
She knew the answer was obvious, but it was the only thing that came into her head.
"There's been an accident on Route 130," Mom was saying into the phone.
How could somebody not get hurt in that? Lily thought. She shuddered and tried not to think of what the people inside must look like.
Mom hung up the phone and grabbed her winter gloves. "I'm going to go see if I can do anything before the paramedics get here."
"You're going over there?" Lily said.
"I'd want somebody to come help us if we'd been the ones who got hit." Mom pulled her knit cap down over her ponytail. "And we almost were."
A chill went through Lily, and it wasn't from the blast of frosty air that came in as her mother opened the van door. It could have been us—all crumpled up and maybe bleeding—
It wasn't a thought she wanted to be left alone with. She got out of the van and followed her mother, picking her way across the ice.
"Lil, why don't you stay here until I know what's happened," Mom said.
"I want to come," Lily said. Her own voice sounded thin and scared.
"Then get some blankets out of the back. And the first aid kit."
Lily didn't even know there was a first aid kit in the van. It didn't strike her as a Mom kind of thing. Whenever Lily or her younger brother, Joe, or her older brother, Art, got hurt, Mom would say, "Are you hemorrhaging? Have a bone sticking out?" When the answer was no, she'd tell them to go get a Band-Aid and not whine about it. But there was a first aid kit in the back of the van, along with two blankets and even a pillow. Lily grabbed all of it and made her way over to the side of the road.
Mom was there with some other people who had stopped to help, and they were all crouched around somebody on the ground. As soon as Lily got close, Mom put her hand up and said, "That's far enough, Lil. Just leave the stuff here."
There was no merry twitching around her mother's mouth now. Her tan face was white, and her voice was strained. Lily backed away, her heart pounding.
"Could we have one of those blankets over here?" someone said. Lily looked up. There was a teenage boy, around Art's age, crouched down beside a small person. The child was sitting up, so it was probably safe to go over there. Lily grabbed one of the blankets she'd just set down and slipped and slid across the ice to get to them. "I don't think he's hurt," the teenager said to Lily, "but he's shaking like he's freezing."
Lily squatted beside him. A boy of about five blinked up at Lily, his face the color of Cream of Wheat. His lips were blue, and the teenager was right: he was trembling like a leaf about to fall off a tree.
"You want a blanket?" Lily said to him.
He didn't answer, but Lily wrapped it around him anyway and then rubbed her hands up and down his arms, the way her dad did to her when she was whining about being in danger of frostbite if she had to walk to school.
"I don't think he's hurt," the teenager said again. "He's probably not, huh?"
Lily looked up at him in surprise. He was shaking as badly as the little boy was, and even in the dark Lily could see tears shimmering in his eyes.
"He doesn't look like he is," Lily said.
"Nah, I bet he's not."
The teen crossed his arms over his chest and stuck his hands into his armpits. His bottom lip was vibrating.
"Did you ask him?" Lily said.
"He won't say nothin'! He just sits there—but he's probably not hurt."
The teenager just kept shaking his head. Lily got the strange feeling that the kid didn't really know what he was saying. Mouth suddenly dry, Lily turned to the little boy.
"What's your name?" she said.
The little blue lips came open. "Thomas," he said in a voice she could hardly hear.
"I'm Lily," she said.
"Lily," he said.
The teenager let out a shrill laugh. "You see! He's not hurt, huh?"
"Do you have any owies, Thomas?" Lily said.
"What's an 'owie'?" the teenage boy said.
But before Lily had a chance to say, "You know, a boo-boo, a cut, or a scrape, or something," the air was filled with the screaming of sirens. The teenager's face drained, and his eyes went wild.
"I just lost control!" he said. "It was the ice! I couldn't help it!"
His voice was so full of fear that even little Thomas started to cry. Lily put her hands on his arms to rub them again, but he stuck his own arms out and hurled himself against her. There was nothing to do but fold him up in a hug.
"It's okay, Thomas," Lily said to him. "You're okay."
The teenage boy was not okay. The minute a police officer got out of his car and started toward him, he broke into tears. It made Lily feel like she wanted to be somewhere else. Fortunately, the policeman took him aside. But then little Thomas started to whimper.
"You're okay," Lily said. "You aren't hurt. It's okay—"
"I am too hurt," Thomas said.
Lily pulled him away from her a little and looked at him. "Where?" she said.
"My tummy," he said. "It hurts a lot."
"Oh," Lily said.
She looked around for someone to call to, but the flock of uniformed adults who had just arrived all seemed to be either running around or hovering around the person on the ground. Lily looked back at Thomas. He was bending over at his waist now, and his eyes were looking funny, like he couldn't quite focus them.
"Um ... why don't you lie down? I'll get somebody to help us," Lily said.
"Don't leave!" Thomas said, and he clutched at her sleeve with his fingers. Lily noticed for the first time that he didn't have gloves on, and his little fingers were red and stiff.
"Okay, but lie down. And put these on."
She peeled off her knit mittens and slid them over his tiny hands.
Then she got him to curl up in the blanket with his head in her lap.
"You smell like pizza," he murmured.
It was the voice of a person who was about to fall asleep, and it scared Lily. She twisted around and caught sight of a paramedic walking away from the person on the ground, right toward them.
"This one okay?" the paramedic called to her.
"I don't think so," Lily called back. "He says his stomach hurts. And his eyes look funny and his lips are blue and he's falling asleep."
The paramedic's steps got faster, and he already had his little flashlight out when he got to them.
"Hey, fella," he said to Thomas as he shined the light in his eyes.
"His name's Thomas," Lily said.
"Stretcher over here!" the paramedic called out. "We're gonna have to take you to the hospital, Thomas," he said.
"Mommy!" Thomas said.
"Mommy's going too, only she's getting a different ride. You'll see her when you get there."
"You come with me."
Thomas was looking right at Lily, his eyes trying hard to stay focused.
"Is this your sister?" the paramedic said.
"I didn't even know him before tonight," Lily said.
The paramedic grinned. "He sure likes you." He went on doing things to Thomas as he talked. "Thanks for staying here with him. The other driver told us he thought he was all right." He grunted softly. "'Course, he has a reason to want him to be all right."
Thomas whimpered, and Lily leaned down over him. "You will be all right, Thomas," she said.
"Sure he will. All right, fella. We're gonna put you on this stretcher and give you a wild ride. How would you like that?"
Thomas's face puckered weakly. "I want her to take me."
"Tell you what," said the paramedic as two other people in navy blue down jackets lifted Thomas like he was a feather and put him on a stretcher. "She can walk with us to the ambulance. How would that be?"
Thomas nodded, and Lily scrambled to her feet and got as close to the stretcher as she could without getting in the way of the IV bottle that was already suspended above him. She knew what that was; she'd had one herself last fall. It was much better being on this side of the stretcher. She could put her hand out to Thomas and hold his as she hurried along to the ambulance, and she could talk to him and reassure him that everything really was going to be okay.
He still wailed for her when they slid him inside the ambulance, and she would have jumped right in there with him if any of them had given her half a chance. But they closed the doors behind him, and the first paramedic put his hand on Lily's shoulder just before he headed for the driver's seat.
"Thanks for your help," he said.
Then he jumped into the front of the ambulance and started the siren as they pulled out of the icy slush and back onto Route 130. As Lily watched them go, she could almost hear the paramedic adding, "And, Lily, you're welcome on our team anytime."
Excerpted from Lily Robbins, MD by Nancy Rue Copyright © 2012 by Nancy Rue. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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