The Last Present Read online

  “Are you really this excited to be driving carpool, Mom?” Tara asks.

  Rory leans forward. “Maybe you drank too much coffee, Mrs. B. That happened to me once.”

  Tara’s mom laughs. “Nope. I ran into an old friend today. My best friend, actually. From when I was your age. I thought she’d never talk to me again. But she did.”

  Tara’s eyes widen. “Polly?”

  Her mom nods. “Yup. I’m going to show her the new house today.”

  “That’s so great,” Tara says, beaming.

  “I’ll have to work hard to earn her trust back, but at least she’s letting me try.” Then she glances at us in the rearview mirror. “So, what did you guys do today?”

  No one rushes to answer her. I feel like I should say something so as not to be rude, but somehow the words We went back in time four years, met one of our best friends when she was nine, stopped a kid from blowing out his sister’s candles, which somehow made her grow four inches, and then landed on a trampoline have trouble leaving my mouth.

  “Nothing much,” Tara finally says. “Oh, we had pizza!”

  Mrs. Brennan slows down, then pulls over to the curb and stops the car.

  “Um, my house is still a few blocks away,” Rory says.

  Mrs. Brennan turns so she’s facing all of us. “Did Tara tell you what I did when I was a little older than you guys?”

  Surprised at her question, we all shake our heads.

  “Mom!” Tara says. “Can we talk about this later?”

  Her mother thinks for a minute. “All right, then, I’ll just say this. I know when Angelina D’Angelo is involved with something. I can smell it.”

  Leo sniffs under his arms. “You can?”

  I elbow him in the ribs.

  “Okay, not literally,” she says. “But I can sense it. I think anyone who has had dealings with her in the past can recognize others caught in the middle of it.”

  We all nod in agreement. Amanda and I had seen it in Rory last year, and this summer we all saw it in Tara. I lean forward in my seat. “You knew her when you lived here?”

  She nods. “And then after I left, too. It may start out with her trying to help, but I fear the only person Angelina’s really looking out for is herself.”

  Wow. I may not always be Angelina’s biggest fan, but generally I think her heart is in the right place. Tara’s mom must have had a really hard time. No wonder Tara hasn’t wanted to talk about it yet. If ever.

  “Mom, we’re just trying to help a friend,” Tara says. “It’s almost over.”

  “You might be right, Tara,” her mom says. “But trust me, Angelina only lets you see what she wants you to see, and it’s never the whole picture.”

  “You said it, sistah,” Rory says as the rest of us nod in agreement. Seemingly satisfied, Mrs. Brennan continues the drive to Rory’s house. But her warning echoes in my ears the rest of the day.

  “I feel good about this,” Leo says as we walk down the street toward Grace’s house. “I think this is our last trip back.”

  “I hope you’re right.” The street is quiet in the middle of the day, which is always helpful when you’re about to vanish. Grace’s fifth birthday party was held in her backyard, and it took repeated viewings of the video to figure out a halfway decent excuse for us to be there. The video didn’t reveal how or why Connor happened to wind up on top of the cake, but it did show him being sent to his room to “think about what he’d done.”

  Basically, our plan is to wait for the pizza delivery guy to arrive. When he does, we’ll give him ten bucks to let us bring the pizza around to the party in the backyard. We don’t have much of a plan after that, but at least it gets us there.

  “It seems like we only get to be alone together when we go back in time,” Leo says. “I mean, I like our friends, of course, but I like being alone with you more.” He reaches for my hand. We haven’t held hands in a few days and I’m afraid it’s going to feel weird, but it doesn’t. It feels nice.

  “Kylie told me no one stays with their first boyfriend,” I blurt out.

  He frowns. “How would Kylie know that?”

  I shrug. “She’s had a lot of boyfriends. I guess you learn stuff.”

  “We’ll have to prove her wrong, then.” He grips my hand even tighter.

  We’re still a few minutes early and don’t want to risk Connor or his parents noticing us and inviting us inside. “Over there,” Leo says, pointing to a bench on the side of a house across the street. “We should still be close enough to the party to slip back in time when it starts.”

  He was right. I know this because less than a minute after we sit down, the bench disappears beneath us and we fall right onto our butts. Five seconds after that, a stream of water from a nearby sprinkler hits us both directly in the face. Rory and Tara would have loved it.

  I sputter and crawl out of the way before the sprinkler can swing back around and get us again. Leo crawls over to me. “Guess that bench wasn’t here six years ago.”

  “Guess not,” I reply, wiping my face with my sleeve. “Think we’ll laugh about this someday?”

  “I’m already laughing on the inside,” he says, wiping his check with his hand. He only succeeds in making it messier by smearing mud on his nose. I can’t help laughing as I do my best to clean him up with my shirt. He does the same for me. By the time the pizza delivery car pulls up at the curb, we’re as presentable as we’re gonna get. “Showtime,” Leo says, pulling me up.

  The delivery guy is lifting a pile of pizza boxes off of his passenger seat when we arrive at his side. “Hi,” I say with a little wave. “Can we, um, help with those?” Leo holds out the ten-dollar bill. The guy looks from the money to the receipt taped to the top box in the pile and then at us. “The bill is for sixty-four dollars,” he says, holding out his hand.

  Leo lays the ten on the guy’s palm. “How about we give you this, and you let us carry the boxes to the backyard.”

  The guy shrugs and stuffs the bill in his pocket. “Whatever floats your boat.” He hands me two boxes and Leo three, leaving his own arms free. He swings them and whistles as we all trudge to the backyard together.

  The party is in full swing already. Tables and chairs dot the lawn with a few umbrellas for shade. Kids splash and shout in wading pools, while the parents keep one eye on their kids and try to have a real conversation at the same time. This is the first of Grace’s parties where the parents of the kids attending it came, too. I guess because the kids are so young. At five, Grace is so cute I can’t even stand it.

  “You can put those over here,” Mrs. Kelly instructs us, pointing to a long table draped with a pink-and-white-checkered tablecloth.

  We lay the boxes on the table and back away while she pays the real delivery guy. Trying to blend into the crowd isn’t going to work. There’s no one between the ages of six and thirty except Connor and one other boy around the same age. The boy has spiky brown hair and is currently standing very close to his mom, who is talking with Mr. Kelly. We’d seen him in the video but hadn’t paid any attention, figuring he was a cousin or neighbor. But something about the way he’s squinting up at his mom while she’s talking feels familiar. I grip Leo’s arm. “That’s David!”

  Leo takes a few steps closer to him. “You’re right! I bet he just moved here.”

  We watch as Mr. Kelly waves for Connor to come join them.

  “Let’s go eavesdrop!” Leo says.

  Before I can stop him, he’s run across the yard and flattened himself against a tree. I sigh. Does he really think no one can see him now? I glance around to make sure Mrs. Kelly isn’t watching us, but she’s gone back into the house.

  “I know Connor’s really excited that David will be in his class in the fall,” Mr. Kelly is saying. “He has a few friends but hasn’t really found a good friend yet.”

  “Dad!” Connor whines, reddening.

  “Don’t feel bad, Connor,” David says, stepping away a bit from his mom. “I don’