13 Gifts Read online

  “I did it!” she says, unable to keep her voice down. “I asked Mom if it was okay and she really didn’t want me to and I asked her, ‘Why, just tell me why?’ and she said it’s because she doesn’t want me to get hurt like Grandma did, to feel that all my self-worth was tied up in an acting career, and I was like, ‘Mom, I want to be a mathematician, not an actress,’ and she still wasn’t sure, so I showed her the Jake video and she was like, ‘Okay, you should totally do this!’ So now we’re going to go to the beach after the play instead!”

  “That’s great, I —”

  But Emily has noticed Rory on the other side of me and has lunged out of her seat to tackle her. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

  Rory peels Emily off of her and laughs. “It’s okay. Jake really wants to do it. But I think Ray is going to fire you if you don’t sit down and pay attention.”

  “Are we ready to focus, Miss St. Claire?” Ray asks, peering down at her.

  She slinks back to her seat.

  Ray walks back and forth, hands clasped behind his back, eying everyone like he’s a drill sergeant inspecting the troops. I’m not sure what a real director would look like, but Ray looks like someone who wandered in from an afternoon hike. He even has a water bottle strapped to his waist. Finally he says, “Okay, folks. I run a tight ship. There will be no mollycoddling of anyone in …” He looks at me and asks, “What play is this again? Grease? The Wizard of Oz?”

  At the mention of The Wizard of Oz, Amanda visibly shudders. I’m not a fan of the flying monkeys either.

  “It’s Fiddler on the Roof,” I reply in a loud whisper.

  “That’s right, Fiddler on the Roof! That classic tale of tradition, love, and family. At least I think it is. I’ve only seen the movie and you know how they change things. Anyway, as I was saying — cast, crew, you’re all the same in my book. And judging by the number of people in this room, you actually are the same. Okay. Now let’s go around the room. Tell me who you are and what you’re doing here. Keep it short. My brain’s already crowded.”

  Leo pops up. “I’m Leo. I’ll be playing the part of Perchik, a student in love with Tevye’s daughter Hodel.” He picks up his folders and begins distributing them. “I’ve made each member of the cast a folder that will include the lyrics to the songs that you will be performing. Each member of the crew also gets a folder with your assignments. I did my best to figure out the costumes and sets, and as many of you know, we have a lot of the props already. Since we have only a little more than two weeks to get this show ready, it’ll be pretty bare-bones. We had to cut out a few of the less essential songs, and we only have seventy-five dollars to spend on incidentals. So look over the lists in your folders and see what you have from home or can borrow.”

  He continues handing out the folders and I glance over at Amanda. Her face is glowing with pride. She leans over to me and whispers, “And to think my mom said Leo always has his head in the clouds.” She gets up next and offers to write the cast and crew list on the dry-erase board in the front of the room.

  Director: Ray

  Producer: Tara

  Tevye, the milkman: David

  Tzeitel, his oldest daughter: Emily

  Hodel, his second-oldest: Stephanie

  Chava, his third-oldest: Rory

  Golde, his wife: Amanda

  Motel, a tailor, in love with Tzeitel: Jake

  Perchik, a student, in love with Hodel: Leo

  Yente, the matchmaker: Annabelle

  Lazar Wolf, the butcher: Connor

  Fyedka, a Christian, in love with Chava: Vinnie

  Shprintze and Bielke, Tevye’s youngest daughters: Grace and Bailey

  Fiddler: Bucky Whitehead

  Choreography: Mrs. Grayson

  Set design and props: Big Joe

  Costumes: Annabelle

  Makeup: Bettie

  Hair: Sari

  There are only three people on the whole list who I don’t know — Vinnie (who came in a baseball uniform) is a friend of Leo’s. His ears turned pink when he saw Annabelle so I’m sure there’s a story there somewhere. Then Connor’s sister, Grace, brought her friend Bailey, and Rory brought her friend Sari to do everyone’s hair. Considering Sari’s own hair is a collage of colors, she and Bettie will no doubt get along swimmingly. Seeing the list in big letters makes it feel so real. This is seriously going to happen. Maybe my immortal soul won’t bounce from cloud to cloud after all!

  Sari asks loudly where Jake is, and Rory explains to everyone that he isn’t going to be here until the day before the play, but that he knows his song already. After a few murmurs of disappointment that they won’t be seeing him today, the cast huddles in one corner with their song sheets, while the crew meets with Ray to talk about what supplies they’ll need. Seeing my name up there as producer feels very strange. The first hurdle is done, though — we have the cast, crew, props, and a stage. As the producer, it’s my job to find an audience while everyone else works on putting the actual play together. If Angelina hadn’t said I needed to sell tickets, I would have been fine simply having everyone bring their families.

  I wander through the room listening to different conversations. Since choreographing the dances is the hardest part of all, Mrs. Grayson has roped Big Joe into helping her. She has him standing in the center of the room while she flits around him, humming the words to “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and taking down notes on how the dance should go. Fortunately a lot of the notes on the original script we got from the library were actually hers, so she only has to redo it with the new cast.

  I wait until Ray finishes assuring Grace and Bailey that, as the younger sisters in the play, their role as background dancers is very important. Then he tells them to go see Bettie and Sari about their hair and makeup, and that perks them right up.

  “Nice work,” I say.

  “I was born to direct,” he says, thumping his chest. “It’s all about people skills.”

  “Since we know mine are lacking, do you need me here?”

  He shakes his head. “Go produce. Or whatever it is producers do. I got it covered.”

  I reach into my sock and hand him the seventy-five dollars I volunteered to contribute.

  He tucks it in his pocket. “I will use it wisely,” he promises. As I turn to go, he stops me and says, “It’s gonna be a ripper play. You’ll see. People will talk about it for years.”

  As I leave the room, I hear Annabelle tell Ray that in order to fully embody her role as the matchmaker in the play, she has the perfect woman to set him up with. That’s the spirit.

  Instead of biking straight home to work on the flyers for the play, I take a detour over to Angelina’s shop. I want to update her on the progress of the play and ask if I really need to sell tickets. As usual, the store looks dark from the outside. But this time when I turn the knob, it doesn’t open. I look up to see a sign posted on the door. GONE FISHING.

  Somehow I can’t picture Angelina standing by the banks of a river casting a fishing line.

  I decide on the bike ride home that selling tickets at the door, instead of ahead of time, will be fine. I use the computer in the kitchen to make up some really simple flyers announcing the time and place, and put down that tickets are all six dollars. I figure if it turns out really bad, people won’t have lost too much money. The flyers don’t say anything about Jake, which is how Rory said he wanted it.

  Aunt Bethany comes home as I’m printing out the flyers and says, “We can do better than that.” In ten minutes, she designs some really professional-looking flyers. I hadn’t really stopped to think about where she went each day, but it turns out she volunteers at different organizations around town, helping them with fundraising projects. She sends a copy of the flyer to all her e-mail contacts, posts it on the Willow Falls website, and then drives me into town to do it the old-fashioned way — with tape. We put the flyers in the window of the diner, the music store, the dress shop, the toy store, the library, and nearly every store in