The Last Present Read online

  He shakes his head. “No, they don’t come up here much. We usually go there.”

  “Oh,” I say. “I must be confused, then.”

  “But I think I know who you mean. It’s probably my great-uncle Bill. He’s my mom’s uncle.” He scratches his head. “Or is it my dad’s?”

  “That must be the guy. He seemed … nice?”

  Connor nods. “He never misses one of Grace’s parties, and always helps out. He brings the coolest presents, too.”

  Okay, so now at least we know one guest who will be there today. Maybe there’s some way to use that information to help us get in. I sure hope we will look different than we did at the backyard party. Although this one will have happened before that one, so he won’t have actually met us yet. The rules of time travel, Angelina-style, are very confusing! But I think I have a plan.

  “What’s all this?” Leo asks as he climbs into Ray’s backseat an hour later. “Did you rob a flower stand?”

  “Never gonna get the smell outta my car,” Ray grumbles.

  I turn around in my seat. “Like ’em? They’re part of my grand plan to get us into the party today.”

  He picks through the mound of roses, carnations, and lilies that takes up the other half of the backseat. “Do tell.”

  “I also have this!” I reach down and pick up a medium-sized cardboard box covered in yellow wrapping paper.

  “You’ve been busy!”

  “I’ve had help,” I admit. “So basically here’s the plan. I thought we could pretend to be delivering flowers from Grace’s grandparents from down south, who won’t be there. We know that Connor’s other grandfather — who’s actually his great-uncle Bill, by the way — will be there because Connor told me he never misses a party. We can wait till he arrives, then sort of walk in with him, like we belong. And the present is to switch out with the one that Connor sits on. I tried to match up the size with the one in the video. Pretty good plan, right?”

  “Sure,” he says. “But if we’re delivering flowers, how come we need Great-uncle Bill? Wouldn’t we just ring the bell and say we have flowers?”

  I pause. “Yeah, all right. That’s why you’re usually the plan maker.”

  He reaches over and hands me a rose. “It’s a good plan, Amanda. I think it will work.”

  We pull up to the house and Ray parks out front. “Hey,” he says. “If you don’t leave the car and the party starts, will you fall right onto the road?”

  “Pretty sure we would,” I say, thinking of our fall through the bench yesterday and my sore butt.

  Leo brings the flowers and I have the box. We hide around the side of the house until it’s time. The only way I can tell we’re now in the past is that Ray’s car is gone and there are two balloons tied to the mailbox. I peek around the corner in time to see Great-uncle Bill step out of his car. He looks a little younger than in previous years, not as stooped. He pats his hair into place, straightens his shirt, and reaches in for his gift. It’s the same one I have in my lap.

  “Great-uncle Bill just got here,” I whisper to Leo. “And the gift that Connor breaks is his!”

  Leo groans. “Great. Another run-in with crazy Great-uncle Bill. It felt like he locked us in that bathroom on purpose, ya know? Like he knew we were trying to keep Connor from falling into the cake.”

  “He couldn’t have, though, right? I mean, he said he heard us talking and knew we were plotting something. Plus if he knew why we were really doing this, he’d WANT us to help Grace. Connor said he’s a really good guy.”

  “I’m sure you’re right,” Leo says. “I’m just being paranoid. C’mon, let’s get this over with.” He thrusts the flowers at me and takes the gift. I wait until Great-uncle Bill has gone inside to ring the bell.

  “Come in,” a woman’s voice calls out. “It’s open!”

  “That was easy,” Leo mutters.

  “She must think we’re more guests.” I slowly push the door open. “Flower delivery,” I call out.

  Heels clack on the wood floor and a pretty woman wearing a KISS THE COOK apron appears. She looks familiar from a few of the parties. “Oh, I’m sorry!” she says. “I thought you were my sister Ida. She’s always late.” I smile at her around the flowers.

  “Oh my,” she says, stepping back. “They really do make you get into costume, don’t they?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Unless you always dress like that,” she says, laughing.

  Leo grabs my shoulders and turns me toward a large mirror hanging in the hallway. I lower the flowers even more. We are both wearing cow costumes. COW COSTUMES. Our faces are colored with white paint. Black splotches dot our noses and cheeks. I have a TAIL. “I bet she’s getting back at us for messing up the last one so badly,” I mutter angrily.

  “Moo,” Leo replies.

  “Here, let me take those,” Aunt Millie offers. She reaches out for the flowers but I hold tight.

  “Why don’t we put them in water for you?” I ask. “It’s sort of part of the job.”

  “Lovely! The kitchen is this way.” She leads us down the hall. “You can lay them on the counter and I’ll find some vases.”

  “They’re, um, from Grace’s grandparents,” I tell her.

  “Really?” Her brows rise in surprise, but she covers it up with a smile. “Hey, kids!” she calls out. “You must come see the flower-delivery people.”

  Connor and Grace and a bunch of cousins come running into the kitchen, sliding around in their socks. At four, Grace is even more adorable. She takes one look at us and her face begins to crumple. I’m afraid she’s about to cry when Great-uncle Bill kneels beside her and says, “Wow! Will you look at them! Aren’t those the best cow costumes you ever did see? They must be here to play birthday games with you, isn’t that right?”

  “Um, sure,” I say, “we can sing a song for you.”

  “Moo,” Leo adds, pushing the present behind his back.

  “Let’s all go into the living room so everyone can watch,” Great-uncle Bill suggests. Grace reaches up for her uncle’s hand, and Leo and I exchange a look. We hang back a step to let everyone file into the next room. “I’ll keep their attention on me,” I whisper, “and you switch out the present.”

  He nods and we move the box from behind my back to behind his.

  “Wow,” Mr. and Mrs. Kelly exclaim when they see us. “Great costumes.”

  Leo gives a little bow, careful not to reveal the box. “We’re here to wish Grace a moo-tiful birthday!”

  I cringe at his pun, but at least he’s saying more than moo. I spot Great-uncle Bill’s gift on the top of the pile on the coffee table. I can tell Leo sees it, too. I step into the front of the room so everyone’s backs are to the pile. “Gather ’round,” I tell the kids, waving my arms in big circles. I glance around in the vain hope that there might be a drum set that I can play, but of course there isn’t. The only kids’ song I remember is “The Wheels on the Bus,” so that’s what I sing. I do the motions along with it and hope my cow tail is swishing to the beat. Leo’s right — I must be getting braver.

  I watch out of the corner of my eye as he places our present next to the original, then lowers that one to the floor and slides it with his foot so it’s behind the couch.

  Everyone claps and asks for more. “I’m sure our lovely cow friends have to get to the next house,” Mrs. Kelly says. “Plus we have gifts to open.”

  “We can stay through the gifts and sing more after,” I offer.

  “All right, then,” Mrs. Kelly says, a bit hesitantly. She’s not quite sure what to make of us. Grace claps her hands and Mr. Kelly starts piling the gifts on the floor in front of her. Our gift remains on the top. Great-uncle Bill reaches for it and turns it around. “Does anyone see a card in a yellow envelope?” His voice has an edge of panic to it not normally reserved for missing birthday cards.

  I lean into Leo. “Did you notice a card with the other one? I didn’t see it on the video.”