13 Gifts Read online

  I hold the playbill on my lap. Yup, still looks like Emily. I hold it up to the hundreds of bulbs in the chandelier above me. Still her. I know it can’t be. And the girl in the photo is at least fifteen years older. But it’s really uncanny.

  I open the playbill and see Emily’s face again. Only this time there’s a name underneath the picture: EMILIA MAY ROSE AS TZEITEL.

  The next two pages are filled with black-and-white photos of the other actors and scenes from the set. On one of them Emily/Emilia is sitting on top of the same black trunk I’m leaning against right now! It looks much shinier in the picture and not so dented. In another picture, a man with a white beard is dancing around a barn. AVERY PITTMAN AS TEVYE. I’m about to turn the page when a giant key leaning up against the corner of the barn catches my eye. A giant key! How many giant keys are there in the world? I look at another picture. A scene in a kitchen. And there, on the table, is my basket with the heart-shaped handles! My head is starting to swim. Picture after picture. There’s the knife on the table next to a long roll of bread. There are the pearls around an old woman’s neck. There’s the violin in the Fiddler’s hands! And on and on!

  There is no denying it. Angelina had me collect all the props from Fiddler on the Roof! I sit back on the hard floor, utterly flabbergasted. Why? Why on earth would she do that? Is it her idea of a joke? Deep down, even though she had called them trinkets and bric-a-brac, I had hoped there was some significance to her choices, some greater plan that made it worth separating the items from their owners. But there wasn’t. They were just props in an old play. What are the others going to think? It’s humiliating.

  I thrust everything back in the trunk except for the playbill, which I fold up and tuck in my pocket. What I really want to do is gather all the items so I can dump them on Angelina’s counter and storm out of her shop. But it would take too long to gather them up. I don’t even want to take the time to go upstairs and tell Ray I’m leaving. So I call instead while I get out my bike.

  “You’re seriously calling me from downstairs?” he asks as he picks up.

  “Yes. I have to run back into town for something. Can you ask Connor to bring the trunk to David’s? I’ll deal with it later.”

  “Okey —”

  “Don’t say it.”


  Ugh. I hang up and pedal my heart out until I reach the alley. I leave the bike leaning up against the watch-repair shop and run down the street, only half aware of the effort it takes not to twist my ankle on the cobblestones. The store, of course, is dark inside, but that doesn’t fool me. I walk right in and stand in the middle of the room. I wait. I watch the last slant of late-afternoon sun come in from the top of a small side window. It hits a glass figurine of a dancer, lighting her up for a moment like fire, then letting her die out to ice as a cloud passes.

  I wait some more.

  Finally, the door to the back office opens. “Hello, Tara,” she says, placing a small box under the counter. “I thought we agreed I wouldn’t be seeing you here until you have everything on my list.”

  “I do have everything.” I am calmer now, and glad for it. I want to keep my wits about me.

  “All thirteen?” she says. “Wonderful! And so quickly! Where are they?”

  “I have to round them up from a few different places. I wanted to ask you a question first. Why? Why did you do it?”

  “Why did I do what, exactly?”

  “Why did you have me collect thirteen props from Fiddler on the Roof? Was it just a test? To see if I’d actually do it?”

  She bursts out laughing. “Fiddler on the Roof? The old play? What are you talking about?”

  That wasn’t the reaction I had been expecting. I step back a foot or so. “The props … in here.” I unfold the playbill and show it to her. “The objects from your list … they’re all in there.”

  She looks down at the playbill and then hands it back to me. “Didn’t you use the list on the tape recorder I gave you?”

  “Yes, of course I did. And those are the objects on the list.”

  She shakes her head. “Not on my list. You must have listened to the wrong side of the tape.” Then she mutters to herself, “Should probably erase those old tapes one of these days.”

  “But it was your voice I heard, I’m sure of it.”

  “Probably was,” she admits. “I used to help out over at the theatre. Had a little crush on one of the musicians, to tell you the truth. So charming and dapper.”

  A cold dread washes over me. “So what you’re saying is that I — along with people who trusted I was doing something important — just spent the last week convincing strangers to give up their things based on the wrong list?”

  “Sure sounds that way from where I’m standing.”

  “But … but you saw me buy the candlestick holder at the historical society. Why did you let me buy it if it wasn’t on your list?”

  She shrugs. “I figured you liked it. Can’t keep up with young people these days and their trends.”

  I just shake my head in disbelief. “But my debt is still paid off, right?”

  She shakes her head. “Not until you finish the job.”

  “But there’s no time. I can’t possibly find thirteen more things!”

  She taps her chin in thought, then scratches behind her ear. She’s simply got to let me off the hook. She’s got to! Finally, she says, “Seems to me there’s only one choice … you must put on the play!”

  My heart drops. “Put on the play? Are you serious?”

  “Why not? You have all the props. Now all you need are actors, a director, a choreographer, an orchestra, a propmaster, hair and makeup people, costumes, and let’s see, what am I missing … oh, yes, a fiddler!”

  My voice flat, I say, “You want me to put on a production of Fiddler on the Roof.”


  “Here, in Willow Falls.”

  “That’s right.”

  “Why? Why should I do this crazy thing?”

  “Well, to pay off your debt of course, but more importantly, because if you do this, you will understand why you’re here in Willow Falls.”

  That makes no sense. “I know why I’m here.”

  “Do you?” she asks.

  Something in her tone tells me not to bother trying to explain about the punishment. “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but obviously the people in Willow Falls already did this play, like, decades ago.”

  She shakes her head. “No. They didn’t.”

  In response I wave the playbill in my hand.

  “I was there,” Angelina says. “The show never happened. The star pulled out at the last minute, the big Broadway producer coming to see it changed his mind, and it all fell apart. Dashed many people’s dreams that day.”

  “And me somehow getting this play to finally go on, that will magically fix things?”

  “I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying only one thing … if you put on this play, you will understand why you’re here. And if you don’t figure that out, well, you risk reaching your thirteenth birthday without a complete understanding of who you are. And we all know what happens then.”

  “Let me guess. My immortal soul gets trapped outside my body? Doomed to wander the earth without me?”

  “You said it, not me.”

  “And when am I supposed to do this impossible thing? I’m only here for the summer.”

  “Oh, you won’t need that long.” She reaches over and pries the playbill from my clenched hand. Holding it up she says, “Got a perfectly good date right here.”

  “My birthday?”

  “That’s right!” she says. “What a perfect coincidence!”

  Rory’s words come floating back to me. There are no coincidences in Willow Falls. I grit my teeth. “Fine.” I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this.

  “Wonderful,” she says. “I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket.”

  “I have to sell tickets?”