Franny liked the tops of things. She liked mountaintops and rooftops, and she wanted to be at the top of her class and a top-notch cartwheeler. Why? Because in first grade Franny became painfully aware of the middle and the possibility that she might be dismally average.
Franny sighed. Now spring break was almost over and, to take her mind off the horrible reality of going back to school, Franny stood at the top of #3 Gumm Street. Up there, she didn't feel average at all. She felt like Sir Edmund Hillary on the summit of Mount Everest or Amelia Earhart buzzing around in her airplane. Up in her tower she was Fearless Franny Muggs, Queen of All She Surveyed.
She squinted through her binoculars. No sign of Pru. No sign of Cat. Good, she thought. She swung around in the opposite direction to have a look at #5 Gumm Street. Not a trace was left from the rogue blizzard that had blown in from the west a few weeks before. It had surprised everyone in town—a blizzard in Sherbet? No one even owned a snow shovel.
One midnight right after that, Franny could have sworn she'd seen lights flickering about inside the old wreck of a house at #5 Gumm Street. She had ducked behind the railing of her balcony and strained her eyes through the glasses to see, but the lights had disappeared. Probably zombies, Franny had decided.
If you believe in zombies (and you should), #5 Gumm Street was the perfect place for them. The house had been vacant for as long as Franny could remember, and vines had taken over to such an extent that from a distance the house looked like a giant hair ball. It leaned so badly to one side that it appeared as if it were caught in a perpetually stiff breeze.
There were no signs of zombies today, though. Instead, Franny spied a moving van off in the distance. It came closer and closer and halted right in front of #5!
Two men hopped out. They carried a few boxes and some ratty old furniture into the house. A moment later a Ford Fiesta pulled up. A woman and a birdlike girl with a bed pillow tucked under her arm—who, Franny figured, was probably the woman's daughter—stepped out of the car.
After a few quick trips, the moving men pulled themselves up into the truck and drove away. The woman and girl went inside through the double front doors that hung precariously from their hinges.
Not five minutes had passed when another moving van arrived. The woman came out of the house, and there was a lot of discussion. The moving men kept pointing and shaking their heads yes, and the woman kept shaking her head no. It seemed like she didn't want whatever it was, and Franny was afraid the moving men were just going to leave—which would be awful, because she was dying to know what was in the truck.
But then the girl came outside and said something to the woman, and she seemed to give in.
With much grunting and groaning, the moving men lifted an enormous, gleaming grand piano from out of the truck and gentled it through the front doors.
Franny went inside at this point. Her tower room was about the size of a large horse stall. There was a small freezer for her Popsicles, a microwave for her hot chocolate, and a desk with a globe on it. Thumbtacked to the small closet door was a calendar with a picture of Mount Everest and a quotation from Amelia Earhart: "Adventure is worthwhile in itself."
New people moving into the zombie house—nothing as exciting as this had ever happened on Gumm Street! I'll bet there's not even any heat or running water inside that house, she thought with a thrill. Maybe in the winter they'll have to melt snow to drink, like Sir Edmund Hillary and his faithful Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, when they climbed Mount Everest! It was time to meet the new neighbors face-to-face. Franny hung her binoculars from a hook and clattered down the spiral staircase that wound around and around the outside of her wedding-cake house.
Within moments Franny was on the threshold of #5 Gumm Street. She could hardly wait. She'd always wanted to see what this house was like on the inside. From behind the door came the sound of someone playing the piano. Franny remembered her own piano lesson days. The endless practicing, the interminable scales, topped off at the end of each week by . . . The Lesson. It's true that Mr. Staccato, her piano teacher, was very patient and sympathetic, telling Franny that she wasn't tone-deaf, just "musically challenged." But she got worse instead of better, and once she played so poorly she actually thought Mr. Staccato was going to cry. She stopped taking lessons after that. But what she was listening to now . . . well, it made her sound like Beethoven.
The music—if you want to call it that—continued, but the door creakily opened, and the woman Franny had seen earlier appeared.
"Hello," Franny said. "My name is Franny Muggs, and I'd like to be the first one to welcome you to Gumm Street!"
"Thanks, hon," replied the woman. "I'm Pearl Diamond, and that's my daughter, Ivy." She hooked her thumb over her shoulder in the general direction of the piano behind her.
Only one word came to mind as soon as Franny saw Pearl Diamond—sparkly. She had gleaming blond hair arranged in a complicated way, and on her T-shirt she had rhinestones in the shape of a French poodle. She had sparkly bracelets, sparkly blue eyes, and sparkly white teeth.
"Tell me, hon, you know any piano-type people around here?" Pearl said.
"I'm musically challenged," Franny replied. "At least, that's what Mr.—"
"Staccato," said a man with an English accent from behind Franny.
Excerpted from The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls by Elise Primavera Copyright © 2006 by Elise Primavera. Excerpted by permission.
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