Leap Day Read online

  I try not to laugh. “How long have you been standing here?” “Oh, I don’t know, maybe ten minutes?”

  Now I can’t help it. “Ten minutes? Grandma, it’s a practical joke. Rob tied the other end to a table or something. He’s waiting to see how long you’ll stand there. C’mon, I’ll show you.”

  Reluctantly she follows me around the corner and into the den, where, just as I said, the yarn is tied to the leg of the coffee table.

  “Come out, you scoundrel!” Grandma orders. Rob and Grandpa come out from behind the couch. Rob is holding his stomach from laughing so hard. Grandpa has his usual glass of whiskey in his hand and a satisfied smile on his face. Rob is certainly in a better mood than the last time I saw him.

  “I should have known you’d be involved in this, Harold,” Grandma says, shaking her head. “Oh, the jokes he used to pull on my parents when we were young.”

  My grandfather is a walking contradiction. He used to be an accountant, like my father, and it took a small heart attack at seventy to get him to retire. He drinks a shot of whiskey a day, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, as he’ll tell anyone who will listen. Yet he’s been pulling quarters out of our ears and encouraging us to fill the sugar bowl with salt for as long as I can remember.

  He gives me a hug, and I can feel how thin he has gotten. As much as I love them, seeing my grandparents always reminds me of how much I don’t want to get old.

  Mom walks into the den, carrying the piñata. “I wondered where this had gone. How’d you guys do?”

  “Second place,” I tell her and follow her back out to the hall. She stands on the step stool and hangs the piñata back up. It sways back and forth and almost bonks her on the head.

  “That’s great,” she says, ducking. “Hey, how did the muffins go over?”

  I don’t have the heart to tell her that someone stole them. “Great. All that was left were crumbs.”

  “Good.” She folds up the stool and goes back to making dinner. I grab my bag and run up to my room. I desperately want to squeeze in a shower before the pizza comes. I need to talk to Dad, too. The doorbell rings just as I hide the purple tube of Breast Boost in the nightstand. No shower for the sweaty and stinky, apparently.

  “Josie,” Dad calls up. “Come on down.” I quickly throw off my white t-shirt and put on the new red one with the few, the proud, the leapers on it. It seems appropriate. I head downstairs, where everyone is gathered by the door. The pizza boxes are sitting on the landing of the stairs, so I carefully step over them.

  “Hurry, Josie,” my mother says when she sees me. “We’ve been waiting for you.” The Domino’s guy has a paper scroll open in his hands. I had forgotten about this part. He clears his throat.

  “May this very special day bring you four more years of good tidings, good health, good friends, and good pizza. Happy Leap Day Birthday from Domino’s.”

  He rolls up the scroll, hands it to me, and says, “See you in four years.”

  Dinner goes like this: Free pizza on the good china. Side dish of french fries and a bowl of vanilla ice cream for dipping, which Mom usually dissuades me from doing, but on my birthday allows. Grandma asks Grandpa if he really needs that second glass of whiskey. Grandpa asks Dad how his mutual funds are doing. Dad says fine and throws me pleading glances that I read as Please don’t say anything about today. Mom asks me if I feel older, and I say that I’m beginning to. Rob is quiet and doesn’t speak to anyone except to ask for more pizza. Dad asks Grandma if she’s remembering to take gingko biloba for her memory. Mom asks Rob if any of his friends have heard back from the colleges they applied to. He grunts and shrugs.

  Mom and I clear the plates and pile them on the counter by the sink. “So,” she says, pulling on her yellow gloves. “I hear you had quite the adventure this afternoon.”

  “The scavenger hunt? Yeah, it was pretty crazy.”

  “No, I mean with your dad.”

  I nearly drop the plate I’m holding. “When did he tell you?” “Just before you came home.”

  “Do Grandma and Grandpa know?”

  She shakes her head and leans in close. “And don’t tell them. He’ll do it when he’s ready.”

  Dad ducks his head in the kitchen. “Who’s ready for presents?” Hey, I don’t need to be called twice when presents are being offered. I pull him aside on our way into the den.

  “Are we going to talk about this?” I whisper.

  “Tomorrow, okay, honey? It’s been a long day.”

  I’m slightly disappointed that he doesn’t want to confide in me. “Okay.”

  “I’m very proud of how well you helped today. If you want a job in my department over the summer, I’m sure you’d get it.”

  “Hopefully I’ll be Snow White, remember?”

  “Yes, of course. Well, c’mon, these presents aren’t going to open themselves.”

  I sit on the den couch like a queen on the throne, and one by one people hand me presents. I should turn sixteen more often. This is what I get: Rob gives me an assortment of car stuff, including a mini Dustbuster, a portable cup holder (the Shark is so old there isn’t one built in), a battery-operated radio (the Shark only gets AM), and a pair of sunglasses so that, as he put it, I can at least try to pass for cool. My parents give me sixteen-dollar gift certificates to The Gap, Express, Old Navy, Taco Bell, and Mobil Gas. I know money is tight, and I hadn’t expected anything from them after the key to the car this morning. Grandma surprises me with a pink-and-white box from Victoria’s Secret. Inside is a pair of beautiful red silk pajamas that slide through my fingers like butter. According to the card, every sixteen-year-old should have a pair of silk pajamas. How cool is Grandma?

  Mom agrees to let me take a quick shower before dessert, so I scoop up all my new goodies and deposit them on the bed on top of all my school stuff. I can’t wait to wear the pajamas tonight. So that I don’t forget later, I take a minute to send off an email to Niki. It must be my lucky day because her name comes up on my IM buddy list.

  Josie229: Happy Leap Day Birthday! My boobs thank you for the gift!

  Nikster: Uh, sorry. This is Niki’s dad. Let me go get her.

  I stare at the screen. NOOOO!! I want to crawl under my desk.

  Nikster: just kidding, Josie. it’s me.

  Josie229: oh, you are in so much trouble!

  Nikster: glad you liked the gift. you’ll have to let me know if it works.

  Josie229: i will. my friends are taking me to one of the lakes in Orlando for this surprise birthday initiation thing. I’m a little scared. Nikster: hey, i have to go, the pizza just got here and my mom is yelling for me to come downstairs so the guy can do the whole scroll thing. i’m sure you’ll have a great time at the lake. remember, these are your friends, they’re not going to make you do anything you don’t want to. leapest regards, Niki.

  Her name disappears from my buddy list before I can respond. I’m about to head to the bathroom when Grandma appears at my door.

  “I have one more gift for you,” she says, placing a small green velvet box in my hand.

  My mom once told me the smaller the box, the better the present. She’s definitely right this time, because inside the box is the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen. The band is gold and the rectangular stone is purple. When I tilt it, the light refracts in the stone.

  “Is this really mine?” I ask, searching her face.

  She nods. “The stone is an amethyst. Try it on.”

  I lift the delicate ring out of the box and slip it on. It’s a little big, but if I don’t shake my hand too much it stays on. Grandma sits at the end of the bed and I sit down next to her, unable to take my eyes off the ring.

  “When I was sixteen,” she says, “my grandmother gave me that ring. Now I’m giving it to you.”

  “But I’ve never seen you wear it before.” I hold it closer to my face. It looks brand new.

  “I only wore it until I got married. Then I put it away for my own granddaughter until her six