Leap Day Read online

  “I know what will cheer you up. A practical joke. I got an oldie but a goodie in mind.”

  “That’s okay, Grandpa. I’m not really in the mood.”

  “Trust me.”

  Five minutes later Rob hands his grandmother the end of a long piece of yarn and asks her to hold it for a minute. Grandpa had told him to tell her something as technical as possible so she won’t ask too many questions. He thinks for a minute and tells her he has to measure the square footage of that part of the house to see how far the stereo speakers will project sound. Rob backs away from her, unspooling the rest of the yarn, and pulls it tautly around the corner, down the hallway, and into the den where his grandfather directs him to tie it around the leg of the coffee table. They go to hide behind the couch, Rob supporting his grand- father so his knees won’t ache. Every once in a while Rob can’t contain a chuckle and it slips out.

  “You’re right,” he whispers. “I do feel better.”

  “I’m sorry, I think I misunderstood you,” Josie’s mom whispers to her husband as they set the dining room table for Josie’s birthday dinner. “It sounded like you said you got a job at Disney World as a part-time guest relations host for eight dollars an hour, and that Josie helped you this afternoon.”

  “I did,” Jonathan whispers back. They are whispering so Josie’s grandmother, who for some reason is standing in the hall holding a piece of yarn, won’t hear. Josie’s dad carefully places a fork on the center of a napkin and avoids his wife’s eyes. “It was a childhood dream of mine.” He figures saying that will make it harder for her to argue with him; after all, who doesn’t want their loved ones’ childhood dreams to come true?

  Josie’s mom watches her husband, whom she thought she knew everything about by now. “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”

  “It all happened so fast,” he explains.

  “You’re still looking for a real job, though, right?” she asks, holding her breath.

  “Yes, of course,” he readily assures her. “In fact I have an interview next Thursday.”

  She isn’t sure whether to believe him, so she manages a smile and hurries off to check the stove. Everything around her feels a little unfamiliar.

  Andy Moraniz shifts his weight onto one leg and balances the three pizza boxes on his opposite hip. With his free hand he rings the bell at the Taylor residence. He couldn’t believe it when they told him at the store that his next delivery included having to give a speech. As the door opens he finds himself wondering if he’ll still get a tip, since the pizzas are free. Andy thinks it’s a pretty good deal that all you have to do is be born on a certain day and BAM, free pizza for life. When he and his fiancée get married, they’ve already decided to plan it so their baby will be born on Leap Day.

  Josie’s mom watches her family at dinner and wishes they could see themselves as she sees them. Her husband keeps brushing his hand against the shirt pocket, where his new plastic name tag is hidden; Rob is chewing slowly and his eyes are downcast; and Josie dips her french fries in ice cream like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Even with so many people around, Josie is inside her own head, as usual, watching everything but only seeing half of it.

  Watching his sister open her gifts gets Rob’s mind off of Anne. Josie takes such a childlike joy in the process. First she examines each item while it’s still in the wrapping paper. He can practically see the gears turning inside her head as she tries to figure out what the present is. Then she rips off the paper and tosses it in the air in her hurry to get at the present. Mom scoops the wrapping paper up and tries to salvage what’s left in case she needs to use it some day. In fact, the gift certificates from Mom and Dad are wrapped in the recycled green-and-red paper from last Christmas. When the pile has been exhausted, everyone leaves the room except Rob and his grandfather.

  “Call her,” his grandfather demands.



  He pushes himself up from the floor. “I don’t think it will do any good.”

  “Call who?” his grandmother asks, coming back into the room with a small bag. She must have forgotten to give Josie one of her presents.

  “The pope,” his grandfather answers.

  His grandmother turns to Rob and says, “It should be crystal clear that I didn’t marry your grandfather for his sense of humor.”

  Josie’s grandmother leaves the two alone in the den and slowly ascends the stairs. From Josie’s doorway, she watches Josie typing away on the computer. She and Josie are so much alike, and so different. Sometimes when she looks at her she sees the ghost of herself at that age. So much ahead of her. So many joys and disappointments. Of course, in her day at sixteen you already knew your future. In the next few years you’d get married, have babies, and maybe be a teacher or a nurse if you had to work outside of the house. But Josie has the whole world at her feet. The odd thing is, she doesn’t envy her granddaughter’s options. Life today is a lot more complicated.

  She watches Josie’s face light up when she sees the ring. Giving it away after forty-six years is both a strange and satisfying feeling. Her jeweler did such a wonderful cleaning job that no one would guess it wasn’t brand new. Before he put it back in the box she had tried to put it on. It wouldn’t fit, although she tried every finger. They were too swollen with age.

  Rob wants to be as far away from the rest of the family as possible when he makes the call. He could take his cell phone out to the Shark, but since that was the place she dumped him, it probably wouldn’t bring very good karma. He decides to use the phone up in his parents’ room. He sits on his mom’s side of the bed and stares at the phone. Now or never. He picks it up, dials the number, and immediately hangs up. This wouldn’t be a problem if Anne didn’t have caller ID. But since of course she does, he now has to call back or look like an idiot.

  He paces the room, and as he passes his father’s dresser he sees a folder on top marked “Guest Relations.” He opens the folder and flips absently through the pages. Anything to avoid making the phone call. It takes him a few seconds to realize what he’s looking at. “Magic Kingdom New Hire Training Schedule” with “Jonathan Taylor” written on the top. He always knew his dad was a little strange, but what the heck is all this? He hears Josie turn on the shower and knows he has to hurry and make the call while she’s still in there. He shuts the folder and makes sure it’s in the same position on the dresser. He calls Anne’s number again, this time letting it ring. After four rings, her machine picks up. Not having prepared for that outcome, he babbles something along the lines of, “Rob, it’s Anne, I mean, obviously I mean Anne, it’s Rob. I really want to talk about today, or see you, whichever, or talk, that’s fine. Okay? Call me.” He places the phone back in the cradle and shakes his head. It was nice while it lasted. How many people wind up spending their life with their first girlfriend anyway?

  Anne sits on her bed and listens to Rob’s voice as he leaves his message. Her hand reaches toward the phone but she jerks it back. Just hearing his voice, deep and pleading and sad, makes her doubt her decision. The blinking red light on the answering machine stares up at her like an accusing eye. Before she can change her mind, Anne leans over and presses the delete button. She then walks purposefully down the hall, past her bathroom, past her parents’ bedroom, and into the kitchen. She opens the refrigerator, roots through the bottom shelf, and grabs an onion. The outer layer peels off easily. She turns it around in her hands until the smell stings her eyes and she has to blink a few times to clear them. Then she bites into it hard, like it was an apple.

  After dinner, when Josie asks all of them to make a wish, Rob wishes he’ll get over Anne soon so he won’t be the only football player sitting home on prom night. Josie’s grandmother wishes she could stop the aging process, since she still feels sixteen. Josie’s grandfather wishes for regular bowel movements. Josie’s father wishes that he’ll win Disney Employee of the Month. Josie’s mom wishes mothering teenagers came with a handbo