The Last Present Read online

  Leo replies and says that we’ll be there very soon.

  “Will you guys let me know how she is?” Rory asks. “I have to go with my mom to check out places for Sawyer’s birthday dinner next week. As he gets older it gets harder to find places he’s not banned from!”

  We promise to fill her in and then try not to laugh at Tara as she climbs onto the bubble-gum-pink bike that she’s been borrowing from her cousin Emily. It’s WAY too small for her. Tara sees our expressions and holds her head high. “Obviously you two are jealous of this fine machine.”

  “I’m definitely jealous of the tassels on the handlebars,” Leo says.

  “I’m jealous of the stickers on that banana seat,” I add. “But seriously, that bike is much closer to my size. You take mine.” I wheel it over to her.

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yup. I’ve always wanted a banana seat. You don’t see those much anymore.” We trade, and Tara looks much more comfortable. Since the pottery store is on the way, we decide to stop there first. The woman behind the counter looks pretty much the same as when we saw her less than an hour ago, except for her clothes and a few more gray hairs. Leo places the receipt on the counter. “We’d like to pick these up.”

  She takes a look at it, then peers closer. “Is this right? You made these three years ago? You certainly kept the receipt in excellent condition.”

  She’s right; the paper doesn’t even have a crease on it, and the ink isn’t even dry.

  “Time just flew by,” Leo says.

  She looks doubtful. “Well, we do have a bin in the back for unclaimed items. We can see if it’s there.” She leads us to the back room and slides a box out from below the counter.

  “Have at it,” she says, pushing the box toward us. Leo and I kneel down and pull out random pieces of pottery. Unicorns, Christmas ornaments, picture frames, bowls, and at the very bottom, a dusty rabbit and dancer tied together with a rubber band. Leo holds the small bundle aloft. “Success!”

  Besides the videos changing, this is the first real, hold-in-your-hand proof that we have of visiting the past. Tara whistles. “That’s pretty cool.”

  Leo wipes the dust off, and they shine much more than when we handed them in. The glaze really makes them look kind of nice. The woman wraps them in bubble wrap and I lay them in the basket of the banana bike and try not to go over too many bumps on the way to Grace’s house.

  I had expected the house to be really quiet like a hospital, but loud music reaches us as we climb up the porch steps. “The doctor said stimulation is good!” Mrs. Kelly shouts over the noise as she lets us in. “Connor’s up with her now,” she says. “Her friend Bailey just left. It’s nice of you to want to support Connor. This is very hard for him. They’re very close.” Her eyes fill with tears. If Rory were here, she’d hug her. But since she isn’t, I do it instead. She seems surprised but smiles at me as she points the way upstairs.

  When we came here to gather Grace’s stuff, I hadn’t noticed the poster of Playing It Cool taped on her bedroom door. She drew antlers and a beard on Madison’s face in red marker. I snap a picture of it with my phone to email Rory.

  Tara knocks, and Connor swings open the door. “Hi, New Girl.”

  “Tara,” she says, then slower, “Ta-ruh.”

  Connor shrugs. “I like New Girl.”

  “Yeah, whatever, that’s fine.” Tara pushes by him and goes over to the bed. It’s much quieter in here. Just some soft music playing that sounds very familiar.

  “Wait, is that from Fiddler on the Roof?” I ask. “Like, our actual production of it?”

  He nods. “I made a recording from my dad’s video. Since Friday was the last night she was … well, normal, we thought hearing the singing might help.” He steps aside so we can get closer to the bed. Grace is propped up on pillows, and her eyes are open again. They still seem blank. A tube attached to her arm is feeding her a steady stream of clear liquid. Her face looks less pale, but the big change is in her hands. Her fingers are moving! They tap together, almost like she’s knitting something, except there is no yarn. And no knitting needles. And she’s not, like, an eighty-year-old grandmother. Still, it’s a good sign, I think. At least I hope it is!

  “I wanted to surprise you guys,” Connor says when he sees our jaws fall open at the change in Grace. “She also talks a little.”

  “She does?” Tara asks, wide-eyed. This is the first time she’s seen Grace in this state, but she is doing a good job at not staring. Well, not staring too much.

  “Every few minutes, she comes out with these long bursts of words that don’t make any sense. Just wait, you’ll hear.”

  While we wait, I place the dancer on Grace’s nightstand. “This made me think of her.” I hand him the bunny statue. “And Leo made this one for you.”

  “For me?” Connor asks, taking it carefully from me. “A rabbit?”

  “It reminded me of you,” Leo says. At Connor’s confused expression he explains, “Because of the orange ears. You know, your hair?”

  “Cool. Thanks.” He tilts the bunny back and forth in the light. “I feel like I’ve seen this guy before.” He shrugs and sets it down on the dresser.

  I take a deep breath. “Um, Connor,” I begin, “can I ask you something?” Before he can answer or I can chicken out, I blurt out, “Did you and Grace always get along?”

  “Yeah, pretty much. Why?”

  “Um, this is going to sound strange, but this girl I babysit for was at one of Grace’s birthday parties a few years ago. She said you leaned over and blew out the candles on Grace’s cake before she could do it.” I can’t meet Connor’s eyes. Now I’m going to have to find some girl from the party and see if her mom needs a babysitter so my story won’t be a total lie!

  Connor scratches his head. “I guess that could have happened. I’m not sure. It’s very fuzzy. Like I think I remember doing it, but not why I would do it.” He thinks for a minute, then gives a surprised laugh. “I’m pretty sure I also ran right into her birthday cake one year and toppled it over. And another time I sat on one of the presents and smashed it. I must have a jinx on me or something!”

  Tara, Leo, and I don’t dare look at one another. He might not be so far off. Maybe Angelina’s enchantment leaked onto him somehow.

  “But Grace never got mad at me,” Connor says, looking down and patting her arm. The song that Connor and David performed together starts to play. He turns to Tara. “Hey, have you heard from the Hamburglar?”

  “Bee Boy,” I mutter, but they ignore me.

  “Not since yesterday morning,” Tara says quietly.

  “Don’t feel bad,” Connor says. “It’s like that when he goes to visit his dad. I think he feels like when he’s there, he should be totally there, ya know?”

  Tara nods. “I’m sure he —”

  But she’s cut off by Grace, who has begun to speak. We all hurry to the side of the bed, even though she’s speaking very loudly.

  “My boy first true love purple I’ll pay whatever you ask gold and tree bark two pinches of tarragon and elderberries waxing moon my apples you lout!”

  Then, just as quickly, the words stop and her face settles back into its usual expression. Upon closer examination, though, she looks slightly less amazed, a little more confused, and now there’s something else mixed in — concentration and surprise?

  “Does she always say the same things?” I ask.

  He shakes his head. “Never the same. She reads a lot, so my mom thinks maybe she’s saying things she remembers from books.”

  “When exactly did it start?” Leo asks.

  Connor thinks for a minute. “I guess right around lunchtime yesterday.”

  Again we have to avoid making eye contact with each other or he’s going to start to wonder if something’s up. But maybe our theory was right, and fixing the beach party did have something to do with her change.

  At that moment Grace bursts out laughing, like she’s just heard the most hilarious thi