13 Gifts Read online

  I grab the comic from my suitcase and run down the hall. My ears are locked in on even the smallest sound. I push open the Collectibles Room and make a beeline for the comics. I drop The Fantastic Four into one of the folders and push the bin back on the shelf. Twenty seconds later I’m back in the bedroom. Thirty seconds after that, Emily walks in and catches me dancing around the room.

  “At least someone’s in a good mood,” she says, tossing her book bag on the bed. It falls onto the floor and she steps right over it.

  “What’s wrong with you?” I ask, still too euphoric to stop smiling.

  “I got a ninety-nine on my math final,” she says, a hollow sound to her voice.

  “That’s great!”

  She glares at me. “I missed a really easy question, which makes it even worse.”

  “You’re upset because you got a ninety-nine?”

  She sighs. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand. No offense.”

  “None taken.” Sort of. “Hey, not to change the subject, but why didn’t you tell me Jake Harrison made a movie in Willow Falls? And about him and Rory?”

  “Oh, I didn’t? Yeah, he filmed a movie here and he and Rory are friends.”

  “Yeah, thanks, got that now.”

  She kicks her book bag and says, “Want to go for a walk? I’m not really allowed to wander by myself yet.”

  “Sure,” I reply, surprised. Every other day after school she’s had one activity or another. We haven’t actually left the house together since my arrival.

  “Where do you want to go?” I ask as we head out the front door.

  “Let’s just walk through the neighborhood,” she says.

  We walk for a while through the streets, mostly in areas I haven’t explored on the bike before. Emily is quiet for most of the time but perks up when we turn into an area with some smaller houses. She chatters about school and the other Emilys, and about how much fun the beach will be, and how she’s going to miss Ray when his visa’s up and he goes back to Australia at the end of the summer. She slows down as we approach a house with a teenage boy washing a dog out front. She keeps glancing over at him shyly, while pretending not to be. The boy is a bit plump, with a baseball cap pushed half over his eyes. The dog shakes some water off his coat and the boy tilts his head back to avoid being splashed in the face. He catches sight of us.

  Emily tries to speed up, but he’s already calling out to her. “Hey,” he says, “aren’t you the kid who lives in that big house? The one who always orders two large pizzas with extra cheese on ’em?”

  She nods.

  “Thought so,” he says. “I never forget the good tippers.”

  She smiles and grabs me. “Okay, bye!” she calls out as she hurries me past the house.

  “See ya,” he replies, going back to his dog washing.

  Clearly we didn’t just wander onto this street by accident. My little cousin knew exactly where she was headed. When we’re out of earshot I say, “He’s a little old for you, don’t you think?”

  “It’s not like that,” she says, turning around to make sure he definitely can’t hear us. “He’s the head of the high school math team.”

  I can’t help laughing. “You have a math crush?”

  She sighs. “I guess so. Don’t tell Mom, though. She’ll never let me pay for the pizza again.”

  “My lips are sealed.” Then I realize something. “Hey, is that why you wouldn’t let me wait for the pizza guy with you?”

  She blushes and nods. “Sorry about that.”

  My phone rings as I tell her not to worry about it. I pull it out of my pocket. It’s David calling. My heart speeds up a little and I glance at Emily. She’s smiling. “You should answer that.”

  Now it’s my turn to blush as I walk a few steps away.

  “A lady wrote about the little purple bottle!” David tells me without even a hello. “She says she’s not a hundred percent sure it’s the one we’re looking for, though.”

  “Is it two ounces? Does it have a silver stopper?”

  “She didn’t say. But she told me we can go over there to check it out.”

  “Great. When?”

  “That’s the thing,” he says, “she’s leaving later tonight on vacation for a week! So we need to get there in the next hour or so.”

  “Where does she live?”

  He rustles some papers, then says, “12 Tanglewood Trail. It’s about a half mile from our houses. I can’t leave, though. I have a live webcam session with the rabbi in a few minutes.”

  “I’ll take this one,” I tell him.

  “You’re sure?” he says.

  “Yup. Good luck with the rabbi.”

  “Okay, good luck to you, too. Let me know how it goes.” We hang up. Emily grins and says, “A little old for you, don’t you think?”

  “No, he’s exactly my —” I catch myself before I get myself in any deeper. Emily is sneaky indeed. “So you DO like him!”

  “I do not!” I say, doing a quick check that David isn’t still on the other end.

  “You do!”

  “I don’t, but it doesn’t really matter because he likes Rory.”

  “Maybe he used to,” she admits. “But that was before Jake. Trust me, David and Rory are just good friends.”

  Desperate to talk about something else, I ask if she knows where Tanglewood Trail is. She points down the street. “It’s about four blocks that way. Why?”

  “David asked me to pick something up for him.”

  “Okay,” she says. “Let me text Mom and tell her we’ll be back a little late.”

  A response arrives half a block later. “Mom says we’re having pizza again tonight, so let’s not take too long, okay? She doesn’t tip as well as me. I don’t want him not to come back!”

  As we speed walk through the neighborhood, I ask Emily if she knows what the story is with David’s father. I’m not used to thinking about other people’s lives. But recently, they’ve become a lot harder to ignore.

  She shakes her head. “I don’t know too much. I was only in first grade when the Goldbergs moved here, so I didn’t really catch too much of what went on. I think maybe he got really sick or something.” “Did he … is he …”

  “I think he’s alive,” she says. “But maybe in some special place? Like a hospital or something? I really don’t know.”

  I feel a rush of sympathy for David. What must that be like for him? I wonder if he was ever going to tell me.

  Emily stops walking. “Here we are. Tanglewood Trail.”


  She nods. We walk a few houses down until I find number 12. I’m tempted to ask Emily to wait outside, but it’s not really our neighborhood anymore and she’s still only eleven. “When we get in there, just act cool, okay? Let me do all the talking.”

  “Aye, aye, Captain,” she replies, saluting me.

  I push open the small white gate in front of the walkway and lead her up to the front door. The bushes and flowers on either side of the door are kept up really nice. The screen door is closed, but the front door is wide open. I’m not sure what to do. “Knock, knock!” Emily says loudly.

  I shush her, but a woman’s voice inside calls out, “Come on in. I’m just zipping up my suitcase.”

  I go first, and when I’m sure everything’s okay, I motion for Emily to follow. We find the woman sitting on the floor on top of a blue hardback suitcase. She’s putting all her weight on it in an attempt to get the zipper to shut.

  “Um, we’re here about the glass bottle?” I ask.

  “Here, give me a hand, will ya?” she scoots over and lets go of the zipper. “I’ll push, you zip.”

  I do as she says, and the suitcase closes.

  “Thanks,” she says, blowing a piece of her long dark hair away from her face. She’s very pretty, probably around my parents’ age. The sight of oversized LEGOs and picture books scattered on the floor tells me there are little kids around somewhere. “So you’re looking for the p