13 Gifts Read online

  “Was that today’s prize?”

  “Nope. Today was a free haircut. My English teacher won it. Too bad he’s totally bald!”

  “You’re making that up.”

  “Maybe. Anyway, I couldn’t believe it when I got Bucky’s e-mail. He says he can meet at the community center in the morning. What should I tell him? Should we ask him to wait till the afternoon, when school’s over?”

  “No, don’t do that. I’ll go by myself.”




  And with that, we seem to have run out of things to say. I’m starting to feel weird about talking to him alone, anyway. Like, what if he and Rory are a couple? Not that this conversation is in the least bit romantic, but from what I’ve overheard at school, you don’t talk on the phone with another girl’s boyfriend.

  “Well, I’ve got some homework,” he says, much to my relief, “so just text me after and let me know how it went, okay?”


  And that’s it. My first phone call with a boy and it wasn’t even too painful.

  I still hear shuffling in Emily’s room. I knock, not wanting to surprise her. She doesn’t answer. I knock again, but still no response. So I slowly turn the knob and push the door open.

  At first I think she’s practicing her fencing moves, but then I notice the wireless headphones on her ears, the laptop on her desk playing High School Musical, and the fact that she’s leaping and twisting in a way that I’m pretty sure you can’t do with a sword in your hand. Or whatever it’s called that fencers use. Emily’s dancing! And she’s really great!

  I stand there for another full minute before she notices me. Her eyes widen and she yanks the headphones off, pulling out a few strands of long hair in the process. “Hey. I didn’t see you there.”

  “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you. I knocked, but you must not have heard.”

  “It’s all right,” she says. “I’m just glad my mother wasn’t with you.”

  “Because it’s so late?”

  She shakes her head. “Mom doesn’t like it when I dance.”

  “Huh? Why?”

  “It’s because of Grandma Emilia,” Emily says, shutting down the laptop. “I don’t know the whole story, but from what I’ve pieced together, she was a really great dancer and wanted to be a real actress, like on Broadway, and this famous producer was coming out to see her perform in a play here in town. But then my mom was born and Grandma dropped out of the play and stopped dancing and acting. Mom said that she always felt like her mother thought she’d made the wrong decision and was bitter about it. Our moms had to fend for themselves a lot. Once when I was little I said I wanted to be an actress and Mom freaked out. So now I just play around in my room at night sometimes. I know all the words to every one of Jake Harrison’s movies!”

  “Wow. That’s impressive. And you’re a really good dancer.”

  She blushes. “No one’s seen me dance except for Rory.”

  I sit on the edge of the bed. “I didn’t know any of that stuff about Grandma. All I knew is that she used to be an actress and that she loved hats. Mom never told me anything about what she was like as a mother.” I guess I never asked, either. Thinking of Mom having to fend for herself as a little kid makes me really sad. And to think that now Emily can’t even dance in her own house without upsetting Aunt Bethany is really sad, too. I climb off the bed and reach underneath. “C’mon, let’s hang Jake’s poster. I bet he’d like to see you dance.”

  After Emily performs a special dance routine for me and Jake, and after she works on her math problem again under the covers, she finally goes to sleep. Once again, I wait until her breathing is even before I tiptoe out of bed and into the hall. This is getting to be a nightly routine. I’m so exhausted, but I can’t pass up the chance to see if Uncle Roger had found a way to unlock the Collectibles Room.

  The handle to the room turns easily, and I push the door open an inch. Hurrah!! Now all I need to do is get the comic from his lab and slip it back in the correct folder. I tiptoe down the hall, happy to hear the gentle snoring coming from the master bedroom. I open the door to the lab to find the desk light on again. Even though it’s a waste of electricity, it does save me from trying to navigate all around the piles of junk in the dark. I’ve just crouched beside the magazine pile when I hear, “Hi, Tara! Couldn’t resist the lure of all those wonderful products yet to be invented, eh?”

  My heart leaps to my throat. Uncle Roger! I turn to find him standing across the room behind the airplane engine. Or the thing that looks like an airplane engine but could just as easily be a giant toaster. “I’m really sorry to barge in like this. I didn’t, um, see you back there.”

  “Not a problem,” he says, making his way over to me. “Stopped by for some late-night reading?”

  “Yes, exactly.” I grab the magazine on top. For a second, I debate trying to find the comic so I can slip it inside the magazine. But I don’t have the nerve to try with him in the room. I hold up the first one I picked. “This one looks good.”

  “Can’t go wrong with Inventors Digest. You’ll come away very inspired.” He smiles warmly at me. “I’ve gotta tell you, it makes me happy that someone in the family might follow in my footsteps. Making things for people that they don’t even know they need, things that make their lives easier, or better, well, there’s just nothing like it.”

  “Cool,” I say. I’m way too tired to think of anything more intelligent. “Thanks. I better get to bed.”

  Uncle Roger follows me back out to the hall. He continues to expound on the joys of creating something out of nothing, while all I can do is stare in horror at the fact that I left the door to his Collectibles Room open an inch. If he so much as glanced in that direction, he’d see it. I begin slinking away down the hall, trying to block his line of sight. Finally he waves good night and goes back into his lab.

  I breathe a sigh of relief and practically leap toward the door in my hurry to close it. I’ll have to remember not to be fooled by Aunt Bethany’s snoring again.

  Bucky Whitehead is in the same spot on the same couch as yesterday. Even if he hadn’t been, it would have been easy to find him. There’s something regal about him that makes him stand out. Even sitting down, it’s clear that he’s tall and straight. And his hair is somehow whiter than the other old people’s hair. Almost silver.

  “Mr. Whitehead?” I say, approaching slowly. It’s probably not a good idea to sneak up on someone that old. Instead of a newspaper, he had a blanket folded in his lap today. It’s very warm out, so I hope the blanket doesn’t mean he’s sick or coming down with a cold.

  “Call me Bucky,” he says. “Mr. Whitehead always makes me look over my shoulder for dear old Dad.” He gestures to the chair beside him. “Sit. I’m curious what would interest someone in this ol’ gal.” He pulls the violin out from under the blanket, which I now realize was protecting it. “She hasn’t been played in thirty-five years.”

  After posting the list last night, we’d practiced what we were going to say if people contacted us. But I’m not sure it applies to an old violin that clearly has sentimental value, along with monetary value. Still, I can’t give up now.

  Swallowing hard, I say, “Well, I have a friend who collects things, like violins, and if you’re not using it, I mean, if it hasn’t been played in so long, maybe you’d consider selling it, or bartering for it?”

  “A barter you say, eh? Interesting. What would we barter?”

  “Well, um, we could mow your lawn, walk your dog, pick up dry cleaning, bring food from the market, any errands really.”

  “Don’t got a lawn or a dog or dry cleaning,” he says. “But I could use someone to fetch some things from the drug store, say, once a week for two months?”

  “Yes, sure! We could do that.”

  “Then she’s all yours,” he says, and places it in my lap.

  “That’s it?” I ask, stunned. “That’s all you