The Last Present Read online

  “Kind of like knitting?” I ask, thinking of the motions Grace had been making with her hands.

  “Exactly,” Bucky says.

  “But wait,” Leo says, “you weren’t there during the magic show when Connor took the bunny at Grace’s seventh birthday. If he hadn’t taken it, Angelina’s enchantment would have worked and you would have failed to stop it.”

  He chuckles. “That darn bunny. She ate right through my favorite hat. Those two kids I spoke to outside, that was you?”

  We nod.

  “You have to remember, from where I stood, you hadn’t come back to the past yet. I’d fixed every birthday up to that point, so I figured I could risk letting one go. Always had a soft spot for bunnies. Figured Connor might, too.”

  Rory shudders. “You must never have had one for a pet.”

  Leo reaches into his back pocket and pulls out Angelina’s small notebook. Seeing it reminds me that our job still isn’t done. “Bucky, we still have two more of Grace’s birthdays left. We skipped today’s so we could go to Angelina’s party. What happens if we don’t go to the rest? Will Grace ever wake up?”

  “Not on her own,” he admits. “Only Angelina can undo it, and you know how stubborn she is. She’s up at the lake house and who knows when she’ll return.”

  “But she’s not at the lake,” Rory says. “We figured you knew that and just made up the story so we’d stop looking for her.”

  Bucky lowers the water he was about to sip. “She’s not at the lake house? You know this for a fact?”

  Rory nods. “So where is she?”

  “I have no idea,” Bucky says. His shoulders sag. He’s clearly upset, but I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s worried about her, or because she went somewhere without telling him.

  “It’s very late,” Ray says, picking up one of the lanterns. “I think we should call it a night. Bucky, I’ll lead you out to your car. Are you going to be all right driving home?”

  Bucky nods and pushes himself back up. “You’re all good kids. I know you’ll do what you think is right.”

  The three of us girls take turns giving Bucky hugs. He holds on extra tight when it’s my turn. I think it’s his way of saying he’s sorry. Leo is busy scribbling in the notebook and waves good-bye instead. I recognize that look on his face. He gets very absorbed when he’s working on a new poem. And after the week we’ve had, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get a hundred poems out of it.

  “Look,” Tara says as we head toward our tent. She points to the fountain. Max and Flo, the two hawks that we often see here when we’re visiting the grove, have perched on top of it.

  “Maybe they’ve come to protect us while we sleep,” Rory says.

  Tara smiles. “I think they’ve come for the fountain. They’ve been drinking out of it since my parents’ eighth-grade dance.”

  Rory and I turn to her in surprise. “How do you know that?” Rory asks.

  Tara shrugs. “Some things you just know.”

  I put my arm around Tara’s shoulders. “Congratulations! You’ve mastered the art of the answer that’s not really an answer. That makes you an official Willow Falls resident now!”

  She laughs. “I guess I am.”

  We watch the hawks groom each other with their talons before they lean against each other and close their eyes. “So,” Rory says, pulling the flap of the tent aside for me to go in, “what was that about you and Leo being cows?”

  It’s a tight fit with the three of us, but I’m having fun trading stories late into the night. We purposely don’t talk about anything to do with Grace or Angelina or Bucky. Mostly we reassure Rory that it definitely isn’t crazy that Jake likes her. Tara tells us that she thinks David was going to kiss her when he came over last week with her birthday present, but her uncle wouldn’t leave and kind of ruined the moment. Then Rory says to Tara, “You ask her.” And then Tara says, “No, you ask her.” And they start hitting each other with their pillows so I say, “Yes.” And they stop hitting each other and start hitting me.

  “Why didn’t you tell us?” Tara asks.

  “I don’t know.” I push my face into my pillow so I don’t have to meet their eyes. “It was just weird.”

  They sit up and crowd around my sleeping bag. “Leo’s a weird kisser?” Tara asks.

  “That’s not what I said!”

  “What, then?” Rory asks, trying to pull the pillow off me.

  “It was … nice,” I mumble into my pillow.

  “Nice?” Rory repeats. “Your best friend for thirteen years, minus the one you weren’t talking, finally kisses you and it was nice?”

  I peek out from behind the pillow. “Okay, it was better than nice.”

  “Are you gonna do it again?” Tara asks.

  Rory throws her pillow at Tara’s head.

  Tara tosses it back off. “What? It’s a simple question!”

  They sit still and wait for my answer. “I hope so!” I finally say and put the pillow back over my face.

  They start hitting me again and laughing until Ray shouts that we’re going to wake the bears out of hibernation even though it’s July.

  It feels like I’ve only just fallen asleep when the sun streaming through the thin walls of the tent wakes me. I try to turn over but Rory’s feet are in my face. Plus I need to use the bathroom, otherwise known as the woods.

  I unzip the tent flap as quietly as I can, grab my sneakers, and crawl out. The sky is still a mix of pink and yellow. A blue jay has replaced Max and Flo at the fountain, and Leo is sitting by the burned-out fire with Angelina’s notebook in his hand again. His hair is all rumpled and he’s still in his pajamas. I wish I’d thought to bring a hair band. Or had worn nicer pajamas instead of old sweats and my BORN TO ROCK T-shirt.

  He waves me over. “The woods” will have to wait. “Hi,” I say quietly so as not to wake anyone else. I sit on the opposite side of the fire pit so I don’t assault him with morning breath. I tuck my hair behind my ears in a futile attempt to make it look neater.

  “Hi,” he replies with a smile.

  “Hi, again.”

  “I like your T-shirt.”

  I look down. “This old thing? I got it on an adventure with some guy a few years ago. Remind me to tell you about it some day. He got one, too, but he lost his.”

  Leo gets that mischievous glint in his eye and says, “So, I hear you’d like to kiss me again sometime?”

  If I had a pillow, I’d throw it at him. “You heard us?”

  “Your tent was all of two feet away.”

  I feel my cheeks growing hot. “Maybe I was talking about some other guy.”

  We hear rustling coming from my tent and thankfully Leo changes the subject. He opens the notebook to a page near the end and hands it to me. I’m surprised he’s showing me his poem at this stage. Usually he doesn’t like to show them to anyone until he’s done a few drafts.

  The last few pages are filled with his small handwriting. But I quickly realize he hasn’t written a poem at all. Rather, it’s a letter to Angelina! Skimming it, I can see he told her all about last night, and what we learned. It ends with a plea to free Grace. I look up at him questioningly.

  “I thought since she can somehow make those check marks and Xs in there from wherever she is, maybe it would work both ways and she’d see it somehow.”

  “That’s superbrilliant.”

  “She hasn’t answered, though,” he says, poking at the ashes with his old marshmallow stick.

  I look up at the sky. The last traces of sunrise are almost gone, but it’s still very early. “Maybe she just hasn’t seen it yet.” I flip back a few pages and see the familiar Xs and check marks — more Xs than checks. When I get to Grace’s third birthday, the one we skipped to go to Angelina’s party, a big question mark appears on the page. The paper is also sort of warped in spots, like it had gotten wet and dried that way. Almost like … almost like tears had fallen on it. I close the notebook and hand it back. I feel like I pee