13 Gifts Read online

  David and I are the last to climb the porch steps. He doesn’t seem mad about anything, and I’m curious what Leo and Rory decided to tell him. He gestures for me to go ahead. As I turn around, I see him touch a small rectangular box hanging crooked on the side of the door frame. Then he kisses his fingers. He notices me watching and smiles. “It’s a Jewish thing.” He points to the little box. “That’s a mezuzah. It has a little scroll inside with a prayer in it. You’re supposed to kiss it every time you pass by.”


  He pauses. “Because it’s tradition.”

  “Oh. Like when I ki —” Was I seriously about to say, “like when I kiss Jake Harrison’s picture every time I pass it”? Clearly I’m still not in my right mind.

  “Do you like tomatoes on your grilled cheese?” Mrs. Goldberg asks me when we get to the kitchen.

  I join the others around the table. “I’ve never tried it that way.”

  “It’s a Jewish thing,” David says, setting out a bunch of napkins.


  He laughs. “I’m just kidding.”

  “David!” his mother scolds as she flips the sandwiches over in the pan.

  “Sorry, Tara,” he says sheepishly. “I promise to be nice. After all, you did let those birds poop on my head yesterday.”

  “What?” his mother exclaims, nearly dropping the pan. “Get upstairs and take a shower right now!”

  “Ma! I took one when I got home yesterday.” He turns to me and says, “My mom hates animal poop. That’s why we don’t have any pets.”

  “My mom can’t get enough of that stuff,” I reply. “She can identify almost any animal by its excrement.”

  “Um, we’re trying to eat here?” Rory says, holding up her sandwich.

  David’s mom points upstairs with the spatula. “I’m not asking you again.”

  “But I’m hungry,” he whines.

  She places a sandwich on a paper plate and hands it to him. “Go.”

  He slinks off and the rest of us dive into our sandwiches. Mrs. Goldberg goes upstairs to make sure David didn’t just turn on the shower water while he eats his sandwich and reads a book in his room. According to her, he has a habit of doing this.

  When she’s gone, I ask, “So what did you guys tell David about why I need to find all the stuff?”

  “We told him you lost the money you came to town with,” Rory whispers, glancing behind her. “And that a wealthy collector hired you to find some objects for him. I may have let him believe that it’s a friend of your uncle’s, since he knows your uncle is a collector, too. He said he’d be happy to help.”

  The surprise must show on my face because Leo says, “Was that all right? You’re not mad, are you?”

  “It’s perfect,” I tell them, feeling very pleased with myself. “Because that’s really what happened.”

  “What do you mean?” Amanda asks.

  “I mean I really DID lose the money my parents gave me. That’s why I went to Angelina in the first place.”

  Leo scribbles something to Amanda, who scribbles back. Then Leo says, “So you really did go to Angelina first? She didn’t seek you out?”

  I’m confused. “Why does it matter?”

  “We’re not sure,” Leo says. Then to Rory, “Angelina came to you, right?”

  She nods. “She pulled me out of the drainpipe.”

  “You were stuck in a drainpipe?” I ask, incredulous. I mean, Emily had said Rory was clumsy, but wow.

  She lifts her chin. “It totally looked like a rock.”

  “You were stuck in a rock-shaped drainpipe?”

  She nods again. “I don’t recommend it.”

  Amanda turns to me and asks, “But what made you go to Angelina?”

  “Well, after we found her store yesterday I figured it was the only place in town I could se —” Oops! Can’t tell that part. “The only place in town that might hire me,” I finish. “She even paid me in advance!” It feels so good to tell them about losing the money. One less secret I have to keep track of.

  “Wow,” Rory says. “Maybe she’s softening in her old age.”

  “I don’t think so. She’s pretty tough. She says she doesn’t want to see me again until I’ve got all the items on her list.”

  “Can we see it?” Amanda asks.

  “Let’s wait for David to come back,” Rory says.

  We don’t have to wait long. A minute later he shows up with wet hair and directs us down the hall into the family room. Rory grabs the cane and basket, which she had propped up in the corner of the kitchen.

  The family room is filled with pictures of David growing up. A bunch from the younger years includes a dark-haired man who I assume is his father. The two of them playing catch, swimming in the ocean, sitting on a porch. Sometimes his mom’s in the picture, too, and in the more recent years it’s mostly David alone. Other than the photographs, there’s no sign of his dad anywhere. No oversized slippers by the couch, no sports magazine by the television.

  As soon as we sit down on various couches and chairs, everyone (except me) starts talking at once. Finally David stands up, grabs the cane, and taps it on the floor like a judge with a gavel. Even without the noise, the sight of him holding the duck-headed cane is enough to make everyone stop and laugh.

  “Now that I have your attention,” he says, “I did some thinking while forced to take my second shower in twenty-four hours.” He starts pacing with the cane. “It seems to me, if there are eleven more things on Tara’s list, and she has almost four weeks to find them, that’s less than three a week. That’s not so bad, right?”

  “Wait a second,” Rory says. “Tara, has your aunt said anything to you about going to the beach this summer?”

  I shake my head. “Why?”

  “They always go in the beginning of July for ten days. I heard them talking about it last week. They’re definitely going, which means you are, too.”

  “Which means,” Amanda says, “that we don’t have a month to get these things, we have two weeks.”

  I take a deep breath. Okay, two weeks. Eleven things. Is that even possible? But then a thought cheers me up. “Hey, look how fast I found the first two — maybe they’ll all be like that.”

  “Something tells me the rest won’t be as easy,” Leo says. “It was probably beginner’s luck, finding those first two so quickly.”

  “Maybe,” David agrees. “But I still think it’s worth trying to sell the last of the cookies tomorrow. It’ll get us into more houses.”

  I shudder at the thought of putting on that outfit again. “Leo’s shorts are in shreds,” I remind David. “And what’s a Sunshine Kid without his sunshine shorts?”

  “So true,” Leo says, shaking his head sadly. “So true.”

  “Well, how else are we going to get inside people’s houses?” David asks.

  “We could pretend to be walking by and then one of us can ask to use their bathroom,” Rory suggests. “You know, if they seem friendly.”

  Amanda shakes her head. “That might get us in the front door, but it’s not like we can wander through their whole house. These objects could be anywhere. What are the chances of finding something else in a bathroom?”

  “I think we need to see the list,” Leo says, “so we know what we’re up against.”

  I still can’t get used to hearing them say “we.” I doubt any of the four of them would be volunteering to help if they knew the real reason why I need to get all these objects in on time. But if Rory’s right and we only have two weeks, I’m certainly in no position to turn anyone away.

  I take the list out of my pocket and unfold it. “It’s kind of random,” I warn them, laying it on the wooden coffee table.

  They all huddle around as Rory reads it out loud. At first her voice is full of enthusiasm, but as the list goes on, she starts to sound more and more defeated. Then she gets to the last one. “Hey, Amanda and Leo! The final item is a bottle of wine brewed by Ellerby-Fitzpatrick Brewer