13 Gifts Read online

  We all go wide-eyed and quickly assure her that no one is bullying us. “We’re just trying to sell a few last boxes of cookies,” I explain. “For, um, a Sunshine Kid we know who ordered too many.”

  “All right,” the woman says, relaxing against the doorpost. “That’s good.” She glances at David, who is nonchalantly crossing and recrossing his legs. “I’m Bettie with an i-e. Would you like to come in and tell me about the cookies?”

  “Thank you,” Rory says, wheeling in the wagon. The rest of us follow. The house smells like warm bread.

  “The bathroom is down the hall on the left,” she says, “if anyone would like to use it.”

  David takes off without another word.

  “So what kind of cookies do you have?” Bettie with an i-e asks.

  Rory shows her the boxes while I glance around the house. It reminds me of my own, all on one floor and cozy. That’s one thing I’ll say about my mother: She always tries to make each new house as welcoming as possible. David returns from the bathroom and I’m about to ask Bettie if it’s okay for me to go, too, when the deliveryman shows up and she heads over to the door to sign for her package. I decide to just hurry and go while she’s busy.

  The bathroom is all done in shades of pink and white. Makeup kits full of lipstick and eye shadows and blush and things I don’t even recognize fill baskets and bowls and threaten to spill off the shelves. Bettie likes makeup a LOT.

  After I wash my hands, I look around for a hand towel or napkin but don’t see anything. There’s a white basket filled with cotton balls next to the sink. Am I supposed to dry my hands with cotton balls? I lift up the basket, thinking maybe there’s a napkin underneath. Nope. I rest it back down. Then I shriek. Twice.

  “Tara?” Rory says, knocking on the door. “Are you okay?”

  With a trembling hand, I open the door. Rory and the boys and makeup-loving Bettie are standing in the hall, concern creasing their faces.

  I hold up the basket by one of its heart-shaped handles. “How much do you want for this?”

  Chapter Thirteen

  The kitchen table has been transformed into one of the cosmetic counters at the mall that Mom always hurries past. Bettie leans over and dabs my nose with a powder puff. I try not to sneeze as some powder goes up my nose. I needed a basket; she needed someone to test her new line of makeup on before offering it for sale. A win-win, as my dad would say!

  The others are seated across the table, munching on the fresh breadsticks that Bettie laid out for us. Rory and Leo have been sending a flurry of texts back and forth while David looks somewhat stupefied. I’m pretty sure Leo has been texting Amanda, too, because every once in a while his phone beeps even when Rory hasn’t sent anything.

  “One more dab of the forehead,” says Bettie, “and we’re done!” She holds a round mirror up to my face. “What do you think?”

  I think I barely recognize myself under the purple eye shadow, pink lipstick, and red cheeks. “Wow, it’s … colorful!”

  She lays the mirror down on the kitchen table. “I should probably tone it down a bit, now that you mention it. My mother, she was the real artist. She always knew just how to bring out someone’s best features, or hide any imperfections.” Her eyes get a little glassy and she blinks a few times.

  Rory jumps up from her chair. “It looks great,” she assures her. “But we’ve really got to go.”

  I grab the white basket and follow Rory to the door. Leo trips right over the open box on the floor that was once filled with the makeup that’s now on my face. We hear a riiiip, followed by “Uh-oh, that’s not good!”

  Rory tosses Leo his regular shorts. He ducks into the kitchen and comes out a few seconds later holding the orange ones, which are pretty much in shreds. “Ah, I can breathe again,” he says.

  No doubt I’ll be paying Angelina for those.

  “Thank you again,” I tell Bettie, placing the basket in the red wagon. I still can’t believe my luck at finding it.

  Bettie beams and turns my chin from side to side, admiring her work. “Thank you for letting me experiment on your face.”

  “Any time,” I reply, because really, what does one say to that?

  “Enjoy the cookies,” David says, ushering me out the door.

  “Bye!” Bettie calls out after us, already opening up her box of Minty Mints.

  As soon as the door is closed, Rory’s smile fades. She turns to David and asks, “Would it be okay if Leo and I talk to Tara alone?”

  David sniffs under his arms. “I don’t smell, do I?”

  “It’ll only take a minute,” Rory promises. “It’s kind of a girl thing.”

  “Leo’s not a girl,” David points out.

  “He’s standing in for Amanda,” Rory replies. “You know they’re interchangeable.”

  “True,” David agrees. “Come get me at Connor’s when you’re done.”

  “Thanks,” Rory says, pulling me down the driveway. I look back over my shoulder at David standing beside the red wagon in his stretched-out shirt and sun-covered shorts. He tips his yellow felt hat at me and then heads off across the lawn. I can guess what Rory and Leo want to talk to me about, but I’m not sure why they can’t do it in front of David.

  “We’ve only known you a few days,” Leo begins, bringing my attention back to them, “but do you always go into new places and ask people if you can have their stuff?”

  How can I lie to them after everything they’ve done for me today? I shake my head.

  They exchange a glance, and Leo continues. “Amanda and Rory and I have learned that if someone’s doing something they don’t usually do, or acting really weird, then there’s usually something behind it.”

  “Or someone,” Rory adds. “Short, with white hair? Duck on her cheek?”

  I let what they’re saying sink in. They know Angelina! “Do you guys work for her, too?”

  Rory shakes her head, but Leo says, “Sort of. Not exactly. It’s hard to explain.”

  I glance at Rory, who doesn’t look particularly surprised. I turn back to Leo. “Does the thing with you and Amanda and the blackboards have to do with Angelina in some way?”

  He tugs at the collar of his Sunshine Kid shirt as though it’s suddenly gotten even tighter. “I really can’t say,” he mumbles. Which I take to mean yes. Then he motions us closer with his hand and whispers, “We’re doing this to help Tara.”

  I gape at him, stunned. “You are? To help me?”

  Rory’s jaw has fallen open, too.

  My brain tries to process this, but I’m coming up empty. Emily told me Leo and Amanda had started talking to each other with the blackboards last summer. They didn’t even know me then! He must be confusing me with someone else. “To help me with what?” I ask.

  Leo sighs. “We have no idea. We’re not even totally sure it’s about you. I’ve already said too much. Can we please talk about the more pressing problem of what’s happening now?”

  He looks so desperate that I feel bad pushing him further. So I turn to Rory. “Then how are you involved with Angelina?”

  “I’m not,” she insists. “Not anymore. But, Tara, are you done getting stuff from people? The cane, and now this basket?”

  I shake my head.

  “What else do you need?”

  “Well, I sort of have this whole list.”

  “How many more things are on it?” Leo asks.

  I think for a second. “Eleven.”

  “Eleven!” Rory exclaims. “When do you need to find them by?”

  “I have a whole month. Not until July thirteenth.”

  “Isn’t that your birthday?” Leo asks.

  I nod.

  He and Rory exchange another knowing look. “Angelina has a thing with birthdays,” Rory explains.

  “Look,” I tell them. “This thing with Angelina, it’s not such a big deal. It’s just a job. She gave me a list of things to find for her store, and she’s paying me for it and everything.”