The Last Present Read online

  Leo pulls me aside when we reach the porch. “Hey, what if we don’t do that toast? You think we’d still be able to go into the past whenever we want?”

  “I don’t know. Probably. I’m not sure I want to, though. Maybe Bucky was right. Maybe those ghosts should stay sleeping. They’ve had their turn.”

  He squeezes my hand. “I agree.”

  Tara and Rory join us, and a lump forms in my throat when I see their happy faces. I swallow and say, “I just want to thank you guys for everything you did for me and Leo this week. It’s just so above and beyond the call of friendship and I’m so lucky to have you guys and … and I’ll never forget it.”

  “Ditto what she said,” Leo adds.

  Rory and Tara start crying and soon we’re all crying, except Leo, who might be crying, but he has his head down so it’s hard to tell.

  “We better get home,” I say after a few minutes of going over what Tara’s going to say to the Kellys. “You’ll let us know how David is, right, Tara? When you meet him at the train?”

  “What do you mean? You guys will totally be there.”

  “Don’t you want to see David alone?” I ask, surprised.

  She shakes her head. “He’ll be with his mom, so it’s not going to be this big, private reunion or anything. He didn’t even really ask me to come; he just said the train gets in at five, that’s all.”

  “He definitely wants you to come,” I assure her.

  Ray steps out from the car. “I’ll pick you up at four thirty, young lady,” he says firmly. “Now go in there and do your best to convince that family that their daughter isn’t crazy.” I thought he’d been sleeping in there, but apparently he’d heard everything. Tara grins and runs back into the house.

  “That thank-you extends to you, too, Ray,” I tell him. “You were totally aces!”

  “The expression is ace,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Not aces.”

  “That doesn’t sound right.”

  He groans. “Never mind. Let’s get you all home and into the showers.”

  “Are you saying we smell?” Rory asks as we climb into the car.

  “I ain’t saying ya don’t.”

  When a car honks in my driveway at four thirty, it’s Tara’s mom, not Ray, behind the wheel of the SUV.

  “Is that one of the T-shirts your aunt got you?” I ask Tara as I join Rory and Leo in the back. “I’ve never seen you in yellow.”

  “Aunt Bethany told me I have to look cheery when picking up a friend who just spent a week visiting his sick father. Apparently none of my own clothes are cheery. I feel like the surface of the sun.”

  I lean forward and pat her shoulder. “You do look very sunny. But in a cheery kind of way.”

  “Now that you’re all here,” her mom says as we head down the street, “I wanted to ask if your involvement with Angelina is over.”

  “Yes,” Tara replies quickly.

  “Hopefully,” Rory says.

  “Not sure,” I say.

  “Is anything really over when Angelina is involved?” Leo asks.

  Mrs. Brennan sighs. “Well, that clears it up.”

  To change the subject, Tara tells us all about the house they’ll be moving into in a few weeks. “It’s right down the street from my aunt and uncle, and it’s two floors, and I’ll have to sign up for school. Maybe we’ll be in the same classes!”

  Her mother smiles as she drives, clearly enjoying Tara’s excitement. We’re halfway to the train station when she says, “Oh, Tara, I almost forgot. A letter came for you today. It’s in my pocketbook if you want to grab it.”

  “A letter?” Tara asks. “Is it from Mrs. Schafer, my English teacher? Or I should say, my old English teacher?”


  Tara digs around her mom’s large bag until she finds it. “Oh!” she says, staring at the return address written on the back of the envelope.

  “Is it from David?” Rory asks, leaning forward.

  Tara shakes her head. It takes a full minute before she says, “It’s from an old pen pal of mine, Julie.” Her voice is really tight when she says it.

  “Cool,” Rory says. “When was the last time you heard from her?”

  Tara hesitates, then says, “Fourth grade.” She turns the envelope over and runs her finger over the stamp, which for some reason is on upside down.

  “Wow,” Rory says. “You’ve been writing to each other ever since then?”

  “Well … she wrote for a while. And then we lost touch.”

  “As I recall, you never wrote her back,” her mother says.

  “I did, too,” Tara argues. “Lots of times. She just didn’t receive them until now.”

  “What do you mean?” I ask.

  But Tara doesn’t answer.

  “Aren’t you gonna open it?” Leo asks.

  Tara looks at the letter a little longer, then shakes her head and puts it in her pocket. Every few minutes she touches that pocket like she can’t quite believe the letter’s there.

  The parking lot at the train station is pretty empty, as usual. Not too many people come or go from River Bend or Willow Falls or any of the other small towns nearby that this station serves. There are only two tracks, one going south, one north. David and his mom will be arriving on the southbound track. The Kellys’ car pulls in right after us, so we wait for them to park before heading over to the platform. Connor and Grace are laughing as they step out into the parking lot. I’m struck again by how Grace has changed. It’s not only that she looks older, but she looks wiser, too. Last week she was a little girl, and now, well, she’s something else entirely.

  Tara’s mom hangs back to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Kelly while the rest of us hurry up to the platform. When we’re away from all the grown-ups, Grace takes my hand and reaches over for Leo’s, too. “You used those chalkboards for a whole year for me! Tara told me about the birthday parties. I knew you guys were trying to help me but I had no idea how far you went. I mean, you went really far!”

  “Yup,” I say. “You were especially cute at four.”

  She squeezes both our hands and looks us directly in the eye. “Thank you both so much for everything.” She says it with such sincerity that I feel her gratitude all the way down to my toes. “Thank you for going back, and thank you for refusing to go back once you learned what was at stake.” She squeezes our hands one more time and then moves them closer until somehow Leo and I are left holding hands. She gives a satisfied smile and turns away.

  Leo and I don’t look at each other, but I can sense his grin anyway.

  “We agreed it was best not to tell anyone else about Grace’s powers,” Connor tells us. “Not right away, at least.”

  “We won’t, either,” I promise. “We’ve learned that until someone has an experience with Angelina, or seen the magic themself, you just wind up sounding crazy.”

  Tara keeps looking over at the clock on the brick wall. “Five more minutes,” she says, shifting her weight from foot to foot.

  “The train’s going to be early,” Grace says.

  “Wow, you really are connected to everything!” Tara says. “How do you know that?”

  Grace laughs. “Because I can see it coming down the track!”

  Tara turns around to see the train coming toward us. “Oh!”

  We try not to laugh at Tara, but it comes out anyway. The train pulls up and the doors whoosh open. The only person who steps out is a teenager with a duffel bag. He heads down the platform, whistling. We look up and down the length of the train, craning our necks to see around the bend. Just when I’m about to suggest that maybe they missed the train, David’s mom comes into view a few doors down. She steps onto the platform and we all run toward her. David steps out next, carrying two big suitcases. I flash back for a second to the eight-year-old David that we saw a few days ago. He’s still there, inside this bigger one. He quickly scans the group and when his eyes land on Tara, his face lights up. He drops the suitcases and runs up to her.