13 Gifts Read online

  Amanda and Rory look uneasy as they step inside.

  “Sorry, Bettie,” I say. “We just wanted to ask you a question about that basket you gave me last time?”

  “Oh, okay,” she says, obviously disappointed. “What about it?”

  “Do you remember where you got it from?”

  “It was my mother’s,” she says, glancing at a photograph on the wall of an elderly woman sitting on a lawn chair. “She had dozens of baskets. She used to carry her makeup in them when she did her rounds.”

  I pull out the brochure and show her the picture of it in the play.

  “That’s right,” she says. “She used to work at the playhouse, doing the actors’ makeup. She must have lent it to them for the play.”

  “Do you remember this one? Fiddler on the Roof?”

  “I was just a girl,” she says, “but Mom used to bring me to all of them with her. That was the last one they did. Must be about thirty-five years ago. The playhouse closed down after that. Lost their funding or something.”

  “Do you remember the woman who starred in it? Emilia Rose? She was my grandmother.”

  “Of course I remember Miss Rose. She was famous in town. Headed for greatness, they said.” She glances down at the playbill and says, “That was going to be her big break, if I recall correctly.”

  “But what happened?” I ask.

  “I don’t really know,” she says. “She pulled out of the play a week before opening night, and it all fell apart after that. Oh, there were rumors. Some thought Miss Rose and the director fell in love and were going to get married, but then Miss Rose accepted another man’s proposal. I was too young at the time to be interested in that part. Sometimes people, when they’re on the brink of getting what they really want, they decide they don’t want it anymore.”

  It’s a different version from what Emily told me. I wonder if we’ll ever know the real story.

  “And no one wanted to start up the playhouse again in all these years?” Leo asks.

  “The town bought the playhouse building and turned it into the library,” she explains. “Willow Falls used to have to share a library with River Bend, you know.”

  “Why can’t there be both a library and a playhouse?” Leo asks.

  Bettie shrugs. Then she says, “I just got some great eye shadows in the mail, you sure I can’t try ’em out on ya?”

  Ten minutes later, we’ve secured a makeup artist for the play, and Amanda and I have purple, pink, and green striped eyelids. Rory claimed to be allergic to a lot of different kinds of makeup, which is an excuse I wish I’d thought of myself. The next stop is the library, to check if they have any of the theatre’s old stuff. Once we’re inside, it’s easy to see how it could have been a playhouse once. It’s strange to think of all the time my grandmother must have spent in this building so many years ago. When Rory tells the librarian what we’re looking for, she says, “We do have most of the plays, but not all. The Willow Falls Historical Society has a lot of them.”

  “We’ll hope for the best,” Rory says firmly.

  “Yeah,” says Amanda, “we wouldn’t want to bother the nice old lady that works at the historical society.”

  The librarian shrugs and points to the shelves all the way in the back. “Good luck.”

  The shelf is stuffed full of scripts and playbills and memorabilia from decades of plays. And my grandmother’s name is on the front of a lot of them, beginning when she was a kid.

  “Here it is!” Leo says, pulling a copy of Fiddler on the Roof out of the middle of the pile. We crowd around as he flips through it. Every other page has a handwritten note in the margin. “This must have been the director’s copy,” he says.

  “The play is really long,” I say, frowning. “How can people learn all this in such a short time?”

  “What if we just do the songs?” David suggests. “Like, tell the play through the music?”

  “Do you think that would be okay, Tara?” Rory asks.

  “I don’t see why not. That’s the best part anyway.”

  “Hey, look!” Leo holds up the script. Handwritten on the back cover is a list of the crew. “Recognize some of these names?” he asks.

  Most of the names don’t mean anything to me. Then I get down to props. “Look! It’s Big Joe!”

  “Can’t be,” Amanda says. “He’s way too young.”

  “Didn’t Mrs. Grayson say the knife was his father’s?” David asks. “It must be Big Joe Senior!”

  “Speaking of Mrs. Grayson,” David says, pointing to the script. “It says here she and her sister were the choreographers.”

  “And look at the next one,” Leo says. “ ‘Fiddler … Bucky Whitehead’!”

  “Bucky!” we all exclaim.

  “When he gave me the violin he said he hadn’t played it in thirty-five years!”

  “Did he say why?”

  I shake my head. I don’t want them to know that I didn’t even think to ask. I’m sure any of them would have. “Do you think he’d be willing to do it again?”

  “I guess it depends on why he stopped,” Leo says.

  We take the script up to the librarian and ask her if we can make a copy of it. “It would probably be easier to download it from the Internet,” she says. “It wouldn’t cost too much.”

  “We’d really like this copy,” I say.

  She suggests we take it down to the copy shop since it’s so long and have them do it. We get outside and decide to split up. David’s going to get the play copied and then see the best way to fit the songs together. Leo is going to talk to Bucky, and Amanda to Mrs. Grayson. Rory’s going to ask her friend Annabelle to do costumes, and her friend Sari apparently loves nothing more than doing people’s hair. And I get the fun job of convincing Emily to perform in front of the whole town. Or the five people who’ll probably show up. Either way, it won’t be easy.

  “Not a chance,” she says, not even lifting her eyes from her math notebook.

  “But look, it’s you, you’re the star.” I place the playbill on the notebook so she has no choice but to look at it.

  “It’s not me,” she says, pushing it aside. It falls off the desk.

  I pick it up and pace back and forth with it. “But it could be. This could be your big chance. You’d get to show everyone how good you are.”

  “Isn’t the Fiddler the star of the play anyway? You know, since it’s named after him?”

  I shake my head. “Nope. He’s just some guy who plays the violin on a roof. Technically, I guess the guy who plays the father, Tevye, is the star, but this is the biggest female part.”

  She scribbles a few more numbers. “Mom would never let me do it. You know how she feels about all this stuff.”

  “I don’t think we’ll ever really know what happened with Grandma and the play. But that was her journey, this one’s yours.”

  That gets her to at least put down her pencil. “Why does it matter if it’s me? Why can’t someone else do it? I’m sure a lot of girls in town would want to.”

  “I don’t know,” I reply honestly, looking down at the playbill. “There must be some reason you can do the same things Grandma could. And you look so much alike. It would be like finishing something she started.”

  She nibbles on the end of her pencil for a minute, then says, “I just don’t think I can.”

  “Will you think about it?”

  “Okay, but don’t hold your breath.”

  I lie down on the bed wondering if there’s anything else I can do to convince her. My phone rings, making both of us jump. It’s Rory.

  “Did you talk to Emily yet?” she asks.

  “Yup. She said she’d think about it.” Then in a loud voice I say, “I know, she’d be perfect!”

  “Not gonna work,” Emily calls out from her desk.

  Rory laughs. “I heard that. Okay, I have a plan. Have Emily open her laptop. I’m going to send her an e-mail in ten minutes.”

  “And you think it’ll work?