The Last Present Read online

  “So that’s how they do that trick!” Leo says, leaning up to touch the brim of the magician’s hat. You can’t even tell it’s really two hats anymore. There must be some kind of spring inside that releases the top of the smaller hat so the bunny can be pulled out.

  “Shh,” the magician says, batting his hand away. “Trade secret. Pretend you didn’t see that.”

  I have to believe he’s joking about leaving the bunny in the woods. “We’re serious,” I tell him. “You won’t want to pick the red-haired boy to do any tricks.”

  He tips his hat at us and wheels his podium from the room.

  “Plan C,” Leo says. I nod, not happy about it. Plan C is my least favorite.

  Grace’s guests are now all sitting in rows, waiting for him to start, including Connor. We go all the way into the back to watch, careful not to block the tripod that holds up Mr. Kelly’s video camera. The magician sets up his props in front of a banner that reads: THE AMAZING ZORO. He jumps right into his routine, making the kids laugh and clap. He calls Grace up to help with a disappearing milk trick. It’s so weird watching her get tinier and tinier each year. Seven now, she could easily be mistaken for a five-year-old. She is still full of personality, though, laughing and joking.

  “He’s good,” I whisper to Leo as the milk disappears as soon as Grace pours it into the jug.

  Leo shrugs. “Not as good as Marvin the Magnificent.”


  “The magician we had for our fourth birthday party! Anyone can pull a rabbit from a hat. Marvin had a bird! Those things are unpredictable.”

  I smile, touched by the fact that he still remembers our fourth birthday.

  The magician gets a round of applause for cutting a rope in half and then making it whole again. We know from the video that the rabbit trick comes up pretty quickly in the routine. Now that I saw how the trick is done, I’m glad he doesn’t wait too long. I didn’t see any holes poked in that hat.

  I lean close to Leo and whisper, “Do you think that he was serious about letting her go in the woods?”

  “I’m sure he was kidding.”

  “But what if he wasn’t? She could starve in the woods.”

  “That bunny looked like she could miss a few meals and still be fine.”

  “What if she got eaten by wolves?”

  “No wolves in Willow Falls. Get ready, the trick is up next.”

  The magician finishes pulling a dozen colored scarves out of a giggling girl’s ear and asks if there are any volunteers to help him pull a rabbit from his hat. According to Plan C, this is when we’re supposed to wave our hands wildly in the air and beg for him to pick one of us. It occurs to me that if we just let Connor steal the bunny, at least she would be safe. But as much as I don’t want to leave the bunny with the magician, I want to heal Grace a lot more. So I join Leo as we wave our hands wildly. “Pick me! Pick me!” we shout.

  I hear a few whispers of “Who are those people?” but we keep it up. Conner gets picked anyway. We watch him bound up to the front, all smiles and anticipation. It might be my imagination, but I think the magician winked in our direction.

  “All right, young man,” the magician says, “I’m going to wave my magic wand three times over this hat, which you can see is empty, correct?”

  “Sure is,” Connor says, peeking in.

  “And then you’re going to say abracadabra and pull out the cutest little bunny you ever did see. Are you ready?”


  The magician waves his wand three times and then points it at Connor.

  “Abracadabra!” Connor shouts. He reaches in and pulls out the bunny. Everybody claps as he lifts her high with both hands. The bunny doesn’t even squirm. She just hangs there, wiggling her nose, her belly swaying gently. The magician holds out his hat for Connor to place the bunny back inside. Connor lowers the bunny halfway, then pauses, a look of mild confusion on his face.

  “Just drop her on in, son,” the magician says. But Connor doesn’t let go. In fact, he lifts the rabbit back up and brings her close to his chest.

  Mr. Kelly steps forward from the crowd. He tries to keep his voice light. “Put the rabbit back in the hat, Connor.” When Connor refuses, Mr. Kelly grits his teeth. “Connor, you are being rude. Give the man his rabbit back.”

  “No,” Connor says, first softly, then louder. “No! I’m not giving her back!” Then, as he did in the video, he runs right out the front door of Mr. McAllister’s Magic Castle Birthday Party Palace, with his mom at his heels. Mr. Kelly hands the magician a twenty-dollar bill and tells him to keep going with the show. The magician tucks the bill into his pocket, looking not entirely unpleased. I shake my head at him as Leo and I slip out behind Mrs. Kelly.

  “We simply can’t keep her, Connor,” Mrs. Kelly is saying when we get outside. We step a few feet away, checking our watches as though we are waiting for a ride.

  “Grace is allergic to rabbit hair,” she says. “Plus, since when did you become such a lover of rabbits? You didn’t seem very interested at the county fair last spring.”

  “I just couldn’t put her back in there,” Connor says, still snuggling the bunny in his arms. “I don’t trust him. And she’s so roly-poly and cute, and her ears match my hair.” He holds the bunny up next to his head. “See?”

  While they argue over whether their hair is actually orange or red, Connor’s grandfather gets out of a nearby car and sizes up the situation. “Kid stole the bunny, eh?” He speaks with a cool accent, like Irish maybe. I think Connor’s family is from Ireland.

  We nod. Leo says, “His dad tried to stop him, but he didn’t listen.”

  “Cute little guy,” the old man says, peering at the bunny.

  “Actually,” I say, “I think it’s a girl.”

  He goes over to Connor and says, “I’m headed to the mall after this, and since you can’t keep him, I can bring her to the pet shop for you.”

  Mrs. Kelly looks at Connor. “Is that okay, honey? Then the bunny will go to a good home.”

  “I guess so,” Connor says, handing over the bunny.

  His grandfather takes off his hat — which is brown and soft — and places the bunny inside. “I don’t think this gal’s fat. I’d bet she’s in the family way.”

  “That means she’s preggo,” Leo whispers to me.

  “I know what it means.”

  Mrs. Kelly leads Connor back inside and we watch as their grandfather heads to his car. The bunny peeks out from the top of the hat. She wiggles her nose, then opens her mouth wide and chomps down on the edge of the hat with surprising strength. When she sees us watching, she squints, almost like she’s trying to wink, then dives in again for another bite.

  “Okay, that bunny’s a little weird,” Leo says when we’re alone in the parking lot. “So what do we do now? We don’t really need to go back in. I don’t even need to open the notebook to know we got a big X today.”

  I frown and then try to look on the positive side. “Hey, we helped save a bunny’s life today. And a bunch of soon-to-be-born baby bunnies.”

  “I’m pretty sure that won’t impress Angelina.” He looks at his watch. “We still have an hour.”

  “And we have our bikes.”

  “We could go spy on ourselves,” he suggests.

  I try to remember what I’d most likely be doing right now, about a month after our fight started. Probably banging on my drums in the basement, feeling sorry for myself. No one needs to see that. I shake my head. “It’s probably too risky. But what if we go scout out tomorrow’s party? It’s at the Creative Kids pottery studio where you and I had our fifth birthday. This is where Angelina enchanted the candles, but Connor blew them out before the benediction had enough time to work. We could try to figure out how we’re going to stop it.”

  “I wish we could just ask Connor why he keeps messing everything up,” Leo mutters.

  “I know, it’s very weird.”

  We’re silent for a moment, and then Leo s