13 Gifts Read online

  I’m getting a bit jittery with each passing day. To keep myself occupied when Emily’s at school, I’ve been trying to write my essay. It’s harder than I thought it would be. After deleting the first five beginnings, I decided I can’t say I’m at the camp. It would be disrespectful to all the kids who actually are there. All Mrs. Schafer asked for is for me to say what I learned from my experiences, and I’m surprised to see I’ve learned a lot in the last week. So far I have the following:

  I have learned that doing something for the wrong reason will likely backfire on you. It may also backfire on you if you do it for the right reason.

  I have learned that when traveling by train always go first class if someone offers you a ticket.

  But I have also learned that if you don’t want to lose your money or your iPod while traveling on aforementioned train, glue it to your body.

  Thanks to Google, I have learned that even though a hawk can fly over 250 miles a day, it’s not fast enough to beat a train.

  I have learned that some people love math because either the equation works or it doesn’t. There is no gray area. If everything in life was clearly wrong or clearly right, I would be much happier.

  I have learned that a piece of the Torah (which is like the Jewish bible) is inside a little box on some people’s doorways and they kiss it to remind themselves of what it teaches.

  I’ve learned that old men need a lot of upkeep.

  I’ve learned that it’s possible to eat from a different take-out restaurant every night and not get tired of it.

  I’ve learned to make sure the lock is not turned before you close a door.

  I have learned that there are some towns where special forces are at work, and you can’t tell if you live in one of these towns until strange things start to happen to you.

  I’ve learned that if you hide a violin in a storage shed and don’t wrap it tight enough, a mouse might make a home inside it and scare you half to death when you find it.

  I’ve learned that Sunshine Kid cookies do not taste good. Even with ketchup.

  I’ve learned that if you tell an Australian person that they talk funny, their accent will get even stronger and they’ll get all agro on you and start a furphy that you’re really a spy sent to town to report back to your home planet.

  I’m not sure what I have so far qualifies as an essay yet, but I save it under TARA’S ESSAY anyway. And then, since the whole family uses this computer, I password-protect it.

  Finally, on Friday morning, Amanda texts me from the school bus that Mrs. Grayson got home late the night before. I’m supposed to meet them at Amanda’s house at noon, since school is a half day because of final exams. I reply that I’ll be there and then run upstairs to change out of my pajamas. Today I finally feel ready to wear one of the outfits Aunt Bethany bought me. I wondered during the week if she was going to say something about me not wearing any of them, but she never did. No way could my mom have held off that long. I think Mom would be pleased that I’m picking up on the differences between the sisters. It’s like my own little sociological research project. I choose a pink shirt and matching pink shorts. I feel like a strawberry marshmallow.

  Ray finds me in the backyard, inspecting my bike tires. “Howdy there, partner. I see you are all up in the pink today. Very sharp.”

  I look up from the bike. “Why are you talking like that?” “Like what?”

  “Even weirder than usual.”

  He says each word very slowly and drawn out. “I am trying out for a television commercial and they want an all-American-boy type. So I am attempting to talk like one. How am I doing now?”

  “You sound like a robot.”

  “Yes, but an American robot?”

  “I guess it could be an American robot,” I admit. “So you’re an actor, too? Besides a personal assistant and a glassblower?”

  “What I really want to do is direct,” he says with a wink. Then he points to the front tire. “Got a hole there. Bet Roger’s got a patch up in the lab. Want me to check?”

  I jump up. “No, I’ll go.” This is my chance! I’d been afraid to go in there the past few days after running into my uncle. But now I have a reason. I take the steps two at a time, although I know no one else is home.

  For one crazy second, the magazine pile appears to have disappeared. In its place is a lumpy green Jell-O-like substance slowly oozing onto the rug. I think it actually is Jell-O. Then I see the pile about four feet to the left.

  One by one, I thrust the dusty magazines aside. I should have paid more attention to the covers, because they all look the same! I have to shake each one out until finally my Fantastic Four reveals itself. To be on the safe side, I stick it back inside the Inventors Digest and restack the pile. I turn to go as Ray steps into the room.

  “Did you find it?” he asks.

  “Find what?” I ask, a little too guiltily.

  He glances down at the magazine in my hand. Is it too thick? Is it obvious something is stuck inside it?

  “Did you find the patch,” he says, enunciating each word. “For your tire.”

  “No. Robot. Ray. I. Did. Not. Find. It. Yet.”

  He laughs. “I didn’t sound like that.”

  “You kinda did.”

  “I think the patch is in here,” he says, poking through a big box on the desk. “By the way, totally bonza of you to take an interest in your uncle’s work. He’s happier than a clam at high tide.”

  “I’m just gonna go put this in my room,” I tell him, not meeting Ray’s eyes as I hurry past him. I already feel guilty enough about everything; Ray’s “clam” comment just makes it worse. Now I’m really going to have to read one of these magazines.

  If Ray hadn’t come upstairs, I’d be able to replace the comic in its rightful home right now. As is, I can’t take the chance. He always seems to turn up exactly when I don’t want him to. I hide the magazine with the comic inside in my suitcase and slide it back under the bed. Then, with a quick kiss to Jake, I rejoin Ray in the lab.

  “Found it,” he announces, holding up a small plastic bag with a square piece of rubber inside.

  Five minutes later I’m munching on an apple while he fixes the hole in my bike. “I could get used to this,” I tell him, tilting my face toward the sun.

  “Just doing my job,” he says cheerily, stretching the tire back around the rim. “All done. You gonna ride or do you want it back in the shed?”

  “I’ll ride it,” I say, hurrying over. I close the shed door as nonchalantly as possible. The four objects we found so far from Angelina’s list are all the way in the back in a cardboard box. Rory had offered to store them for me, but I still feel like it should be my responsibility.

  I toss the apple core in the bike basket along with a bottle of water and climb on. Amanda’s house is a few miles away, and I have just enough time to make it. “Thanks for your help.”

  “Have a fun arvo with your mates.”

  “Okay,” I say, hoping an arvo isn’t a bad thing.

  I’m about to start peddling when he says, “Hold up a sec.”

  I peer around at the back wheel. “What, is my tire still flat?”

  He shakes his head. “Nope. Just wanted to ask if you knew anything about a cane, a violin, a blanket, and a basket in a box in the shed?”

  I wobble on the bike. Ray reaches out and grabs a handlebar to steady it. When I don’t answer due to my throat suddenly closing up, he continues. “Because — funny thing — someone in town seems to be looking for all that stuff. And a bunch more, too. Saw it online.”

  I try to talk, but it comes out more like a squeak.

  “If you pinched those things,” he says, sounding more serious than I’ve ever heard him, “someone out there’s gonna spit the dummy.”

  “I didn’t pinch them,” I insist, finding my voice. “How did you find them?”

  “I was looking around in there yesterday for some pieces of plaster your uncle needed. Stumbled on the box and recog