Joe Casimir was not in a big and beautiful house on Mr. Boulderwall's birthday. He was on a bus, where he very much didn't want to be. An airplane would have been all right, maybe, but forget about that. Most likely, Midville didn't have an airport, and even if it did, flying cost too much. No, things were the way they had to be, and that was that. Whether he liked it or not, he had to go to Midville to stay with Aunt Myra, he had to go alone, and he had to take the bus.
The trip itself was no surprise. His grandmother — he called her Gran — had planned it for June when school was out. And about time, too, she said. Families should stick together. But she and Joe had only been down to Midville once, and that was years ago. No excuse, she said, when there were just the three of them left. Joe's mother and father had been killed in a car crash when he was no more than a few months old, so he'd always lived with Gran. And his other grandparents — they were gone, too, with him the single grandchild. So this was all that was left of the Casimir family: Gran and Joe and — Aunt Myra.
Aunt Myra wasn't really his aunt. She wasn't anybody's aunt. But she was a cousin of his father's — the same age as his father — so Joe couldn't call her just plain Myra. His grandmother disapproved of young people calling older ones by their first names. However, calling her Aunt Myra — that seemed to be all right. Funny how sometimes things were all right even when they were wrong.
Aunt Myra wasn't married, but she had a busy life in Midville, teaching at some school or other. She'd only come twice to visit them in Willowick — Willowick up north on the edge of Lake Erie, where Joe and his grandmother lived. But Gran said early in the spring, "Joe, if we don't take a trip down to Midville this summer, we'll never get there at all. You're growing up too fast."
Joe had learned long since that if his grandmother wanted things to go a certain way, that's the way they went. Most of the time, this was not a problem. Joe and Gran got along together very well, considering the fact that she was sixty-three years older than he was. They liked to please each other. Still, sometimes he had a certain strong feeling — an irritated feeling — a feeling of having no control over what was going on. He was having that feeling now, on the bus. He found himself wondering why he always had to do what other people wanted. Why should he care about Aunt Myra when he hardly even knew her? But Gran said they had to go to Midville and visit her, so, well, that was that. They had to go to Midville and visit her. June had arrived at last, school was over for the summer, the day for the trip loomed up, and then — this awful thing had happened: Gran was climbing the attic stairs to get a suitcase when she slipped and fell and broke her hip.
Gran wasn't a sissy. She faced up to things the way they were. One of her friends, a widow named Helen Mello, offered to take charge of Joe while the doctors were taking charge of her, and for a couple of days she was in no shape for visitors and talking. But after that, when he came to see her: "Joe," she had said in her always sensible voice, "I'm just as sorry as I can be, but you're going to have to go down to Midville by yourself and stay with Aunt Myra while I get over this. I'm going to be perfectly fine, but the doctor says I'll need to be in a recovery sort of place — a rehab center, I think he called it. Anyway, it's special exercises. I'll have to be there for at least a week, Joe, until I get going again, and there's nowhere else to put you! Unless you want to stay where you are? With Mrs. Mello? No, I didn't think so. But we were going to Midville anyway, after all. I talked to Myra on the phone a couple of hours ago, and she says she really wants to have you there. Then, when I can get around again, I'll go down myself for a few days, and we can come back home together. How does that sound?"
He had told her it sounded all right. It didn't, of course, but if she could face up to things without a fuss, so could he. He spent another night with Mrs. Mello — in a guest room that was mostly ruffles — and in the morning, after breakfast, she made him a peanut-butter sandwich for his lunch and helped him close up his suitcase. And then she took him to the bus station. It was very nice of her, of course, but she made a fuss and she chirped, like a sparrow at Gran's old bird feeder. She made a fuss, she chirped, and she kept patting him. And the worst part was, she insisted on pinning a label to the pocket of his shirt, explaining him to the world: JOSEPH CASIMIR — TO MIDVILLE — WILL BE MET BY MISS MYRA CASIMIR. "There now!" she chirped, patting him one last time. "You'll have a dandy trip! And when you're on your way, I'll go tell your sweetie of a grandma what a fine, plucky lad you are!" Joe didn't like being called a fine, plucky lad, but he didn't say so. He just swallowed around his irritation, bobbed his head to mean goodbye, and climbed aboard the bus.
Alone at last, he had chosen his seat with care — all the way to the back, and no one to share it. He made sure of that by putting the paper bag with his lunch in it on the seat nearest the aisle. It was a pink paper bag with big white daisies printed on it, exactly the kind of paper bag someone like Mrs. Mello would collect. Under any other circumstances, he'd have hidden it. But now, well, at least people would notice it and not try to sit down next to him. And then, when the bus had left the station, groaning past the eye of Mrs. Mello, he took the label off his pocket, tore it up into very small pieces, and stuffed it into an ashtray in the armrest.
And now he was settling himself for the long angle down southwest across the state with five or six hours ahead of him for thinking. Mostly it was good to have time alone for thinking, but there were questions he couldn't answer, questions that were taking up room in his head and wouldn't go away. What would it be like in Midville? No school, at least, but without it, how could he find someone to talk to? Or was he just supposed to sit in Aunt Myra's living room and stare at the television? And what would Aunt Myra be like? He hadn't seen her for a long, long time. He didn't remember ever seeing her. If there were a lot of people waiting to meet the bus, how would he know which one she was? How would she know him?
He wondered, too, about his friends back in Willowick. What would they be doing while he was gone? Would they wish he was still around? Or would they just yawn and go ahead with summer? Emily Crouse . . . but he decided to try and put her out of his mind. He could get along without Emily Crouse. Of course he could. But he found himself hoping she'd notice he was gone.
And then he told himself it was dumb to think about things like that. After all, he'd be going back pretty soon. But it seemed as if what was happening now must be what it felt like to go away forever. There was this blank stretch of time, with the old place left behind, when you might as well be no one. You've been someone, with people all around who know you, but then you up and leave, and the old place disappears as if it never had been real to begin with. You leave it, and while you're on your way, you feel as if you're disappearing, too. But he didn't have to feel like that. He was only going off for a little while. Gran would be okay, and he'd go back to living in Willowick.
From The Moon Over High Street by Natalie Babbitt. Copyright 2012 by Natalie Babbitt. Excerpted by permission of Michael di Capua Books.