The Last Present Read online


  Title Page


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six



  About the Author

  Other Books by Wendy Mass


  “In every moment something sacred is at stake.”

  — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

  When you’ve drawn breath for nearly a hundred years, not much surprises you. So when Angelina D’Angelo stepped into the Willow Falls birthing center that hot July day, she didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. She figured she’d be in and out in ten minutes, tops.

  But the elevator was broken and she had to take the stairs two flights up. Then a new guard kept asking to see the badge she’d forgotten to affix to her green nurse’s outfit. She’d been coming here at least once a week for decades and had gotten used to no one stopping her. A bit rattled, she took a good five minutes to sort through all the badges in her pocket before she found the right one.

  She quickened her pace toward the nursery. The clock above the door showed three till noon. She still had time. A quick scan of the room led her to the baby, bundled tight in pink. GRACE ALYSA KELLY the note card on her bassinet read. GIRL. TIME OF BIRTH: 11 A.M. WEIGHT: 6 POUNDS, 4 OUNCES. A little thing she was. And yet so much depended on her.

  With an ease that came from having done this many times before, she scooped the baby into her arms. Bending close, she began to murmur the words that would keep the baby safe. They poured from her mouth like honey, making the air thick and sweet. The duck-shaped birthmark on Angelina’s cheek wiggled as she spoke, but the baby’s eyes were too unfocused to be entertained by it.

  Knock! Knock!

  Angelina looked up in surprise, the words tangling on her tongue. A boy no more than three years old stood at the nursery window, jumping up and down and rapping on the glass wall. She glanced at the clock. 11:59. She bent her head again to continue. Now where was she?

  “Grace!” the boy shouted joyfully. “I’m your big brother!”

  Angelina scowled. “Hush, Connor!” she scolded in as loud a voice as she dared. “You’ll wake all the babies!”

  The boy continued waving and stomping, not questioning why she would know his name. Where were his parents? She turned her back on him and resumed her benediction. But wait, had she said this part already? Her heart fluttered with an unfamiliar feeling. Fear.

  Thirty seconds left.

  Knock! Knock!

  She didn’t turn to look. A drop of sweat slid down her forehead. Angelina couldn’t remember the last time anything had made her sweat. Couldn’t someone make that boy go away?

  The door to the nursery pushed open and one of the young nurses whose name she never bothered to learn strolled in. “Time to bring that one to her mother for feeding.”

  Angelina didn’t have to check the clock to know she had run out of time.

  “Do you want me to bring her?” the young nurse asked. “You look like you could use a rest.”

  Without a word, Angelina placed the baby in the woman’s waiting arms. Then she straightened up, threw a withering look at the boy still banging on the window, and left the nursery. She would have to wait a full year to try again. She couldn’t fail twice. Not with this baby. Grace was special.

  And it was up to Angelina D’Angelo to keep everyone else in Willow Falls from knowing it.

  Two years ago I didn’t believe in anything I couldn’t see with my own eyes. Then Angelina D’Angelo, the oldest woman in Willow Falls, came into my life and turned it upside down. Now she’s about to do it again. I’d be freaking out more if I didn’t have Leo beside me. Well, behind me in the backseat of Ray’s old car, but close enough.

  Since Leo and I have each other, we’ve always tried to be there for anyone else who Angelina has decided to “help.” For the past four weeks it’s been Tara, who was sent here to live with her aunt and uncle and cousin for the summer as punishment for trying to steal her middle school principal’s goat. She doesn’t think we know the reason she was expelled from school, but this is a small town. People talk. Angelina assigned Tara to hunt down thirteen random objects that turned out not to be so random after all. It ended yesterday when Angelina tricked her into putting on a production of Fiddler on the Roof and we all had to be in it. I have three blisters on my feet from the boots I had to wear. I’m still not sure how this helped Tara, but when I saw her this morning she was happier than I’d ever seen her, so something big must have happened after the play.

  Last year Angelina set her sights on Rory, who had made a list of everything she’d be able to do when she turned twelve. Angelina apparently decided there were no lessons to be learned by getting everything you thought you wanted. Poor Rory spent months dealing with one crazy situation after another, most of them caught on film by the movie crew at our school! She was a good sport about it all, though, much better than I would have been! The whole town will probably be at the premiere of the movie tonight, which is going to be awesome. I hope that whatever Angelina has planned for me and Leo, we’ll still get to go.

  Even though we’ve known for a full year that this day would come, I’m still sort of stunned that it’s happening. I’m sure Rory and Tara are worried about us after we ran off and left them back at David’s bar mitzvah without an explanation. Leo, Rory, Tara, and I are the only ones who know that Angelina has special powers. David doesn’t know, even though he spent the last few weeks helping Tara with her list, and he starred in the play, too, all while practicing for his bar mitzvah. That’s just how it is with Angelina: You keep her secrets and she keeps yours. Judging from the way David looks at Tara when he doesn’t think anyone’s watching, he’d do practically anything for her, whether or not he knows the reason why.

  I glance over my shoulder at Leo, who is watching downtown disappear through his window. His face is calm, but I know his thoughts are on Grace, and on what we’re going to find when we arrive at the hospital. Whatever is in store for us, we will handle it together. We’re a good team. And if it wasn’t for Angelina, we may never have become best friends again. Our experience two years ago bonded us together forever. In appreciation, I’ll do whatever she wants. I’ve definitely proved this by agreeing not to talk directly to Leo for the past year. Now that’s dedication. It’s one thing not talking to your best friend when you’re in a fight and don’t want to. It’s another thing entirely when all you want to hear is his voice and you can’t. This time we’re more prepared. We’re not only two years older, we’re two years wiser. We know that sometimes the most important things are the ones you can’t see.

  “Seriously, Ray,” Leo complains from the backseat, his calm broken. “If you were driving any slower, we’d be going backward.” David’s service had been at Apple Grove, where he chanted and sang surrounded by all the baby apple trees we planted last year in an effort to get the place back to its past glory. Unfortunately, Apple Grove is as far from the hospital