13 Gifts Read online

  “Thank You,” I say, clutching it in my hands. “It’s the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.”

  He laughs. “Man, I hope that’s not true.”

  “I thought I heard noises out here,” Uncle Roger says. “You’re not planning on climbing into the pool hole this late, are you?”

  David shakes his head and stands up. “I’ve had my last practice session. Thanks for lending me the tape recorder.”

  “No problem,” Uncle Roger says. “You can keep it.”

  “Um, I really need that back,” I say. “I have to return it to the woman who … oh, never mind, just keep it.”

  David shrugs. “Okay. You never know when a giant tape recorder might come in handy.”

  “My sentiments exactly,” Uncle Roger says, beaming.

  “Well, good night,” David says to me.

  I glance at Uncle Roger, who doesn’t seem to be leaving any time soon. “Good night. Thank you again.”

  “Happy early birthday,” he says, pausing for a minute at the edge of the patio. He glances at Uncle Roger, too. The man is clearly not going anywhere. David gives me a final wave and walks out the gate.

  Uncle Roger puts his arm around my shoulder as we head back into the house. “Am I going to have to make that boy sign something, too?”

  “Very funny,” I reply. But I know it wouldn’t matter anyway. By the time we’re in ninth grade, he’ll have forgotten all about the girl who lived across the street for a summer.

  Chapter Twenty-two

  It seems like everyone in town has suddenly found a reason to stop by the community center. By the time I arrive Thursday morning, I have to push my way through the crowd to get to the back room, which is not easy with a big box in my arms. Big Joe is standing in front of the door, his arms crossed. He motions with his thumb to a sign on the door. PRIVATE — CAST AND CREW ONLY.

  “It’s me, Tara,” I say. I gesture to the big box in my arms. “Playbills? Heavy?”

  When he doesn’t budge, I add, “I’m the producer?”

  Rory opens the door and grabs for my arm. “It’s okay, Joe, it’s her.”

  He grunts and moves aside. “You kids all look the same to me.”

  “What’s going on?” I ask when I finally get inside. I plop the box on the floor. Putting the playbills together gave me six different paper cuts, but I think they came out really well.

  “That’s what’s going on,” Rory says, pointing to the corner of the room. Jake is sitting at one of the round tables with about ten journalists with tape recorders and notebooks surrounding him. A guy in a suit and tie hovers protectively, making sure that no one gets too close. I’m pretty sure that’s his manager. He looks familiar from pictures I’ve seen of Jake at movie premieres and stuff.

  “I don’t know if I can do this,” Rory says quietly. Her usually bright eyes have dimmed.

  “The play? You can totally do this. It’s just one night. It’s a half hour, really. And then tomorrow we have the bar mitzvah and the movie to look forward to, right?”

  She shakes her head. “I didn’t mean the play. I meant Jake. How can I have a relationship with someone when the whole world watches his every move? How would that even work?”

  “I don’t know,” I admit.

  “Any minute I keep thinking he’s going to wake up and wonder why on earth he likes me.”

  “There’s a million reasons to like you,” I tell her.

  Jake looks up at that moment. His face changes when he sees Rory watching. It softens from the stiff smile he’d been giving the reporters, to a genuine one. I see her smile in return, despite her worries. I never thought I’d say it, but I don’t envy her right now. Jake seems great, but in a spotlight that big, there’s nowhere to hide.

  Everyone’s on edge by the end of the day, and Ray treats us all to pizza. While we’re eating, he says, “All right, anyone need to whinge about anything? If so, now’s the time.”

  “Whinge means ‘complain,’ ” Jake translates. “I did a movie-of-the-week in Australia when I was younger.”

  “Hey, me, too!” David calls out. Everyone laughs, including Jake.

  “My last movie-of-the-week was in Greenland!” Annabelle says. “Pretty cold up there, but my trailer was heated really well!”

  Sari raises her hand.

  “Let me guess,” Ray says. “Movie-of-the-week in the rain forests of Brazil?”

  “Nope,” Sari says. “I have a complaint. How come all the women have to wear their hair either in a bun or under a scarf or a bonnet? Where’s the fun in that?”

  “Well, that’s how they did things back then,” Ray says. “Can’t rewrite history.”

  “Still,” Sari says, “everyone would look much prettier if I could actually do something with their hair. Maybe some color … or a barrette or two?”

  “Bonnet and buns, baby.”

  Sari grumbles.

  “Anyone else?”

  No one replies. “All right, then. Big day tomorrow. Go home, get some rest. Be here at two P.M. for hair and makeup. Crew, we’ll be setting up the chairs and prepping the stage.”

  Everyone says their good-byes and I get the same kind of pang I did last night with David, that I’ll really miss everyone. It actually physically hurts my stomach. On the sidelines it never hurt. Or if it did, it was a different kind, an easier kind.

  Emily talks nonstop from the time we get home until the time we turn out the lights. I know she’s excited and nervous, but I really just want to be alone. Eventually I put my head under the covers and make a tent, like she does with her math books. It’s peaceful under here, and cozy. I can still hear her, but it’s very muffled. She finally drifts off and I bring my head back out. I think I was about to run out of oxygen anyway.

  I awake in the morning to find Emily and Aunt Bethany standing at the foot of my bed, watching me. “Happy birthday!” they cry out.

  “We thought you were going to sleep your birthday away,” Aunt Bethany says.

  I grunt and curl up on my side. I’m officially thirteen now. Apparently I have twenty-four hours to become a complete person. I wonder how likely that will be to happen if I stay in bed all day.

  Aunt Bethany tugs on the covers in an attempt to turn me over. “You’re not supposed to dread birthdays until you’re my age.”

  “Don’t you want your presents?” Emily asks.

  I open one eye. Emily holds up two gift bags in each hand and swings them back and forth. I open the other eye. She drops one pink bag next to me. “Open mine first,” Emily says. I sit up, dig through the tissue paper, and pull out a framed picture of me, Emily, and Jake sitting on the living room couch the night he came over. I hadn’t even seen anyone snap a picture.

  “To replace the poster,” she explains, grinning. “I have a copy, too.”

  My eyes get watery and I have to blink a few times. “I love it.”

  Aunt Bethany hands me two more bags. “These are from Roger and Ray.” The first holds an issue of Inventors Digest with a card announcing I’ll soon be receiving my first of twelve monthly issues. The other is a copy of The Dictionary of Aussie Slang, 3rd Edition. Easy enough to figure out which gift came from which guy.

  “And last but not least,” Aunt Bethany says, handing me the smallest of the bags. “I took the liberty of putting David’s CD on it, I hope you don’t mind.”

  I turn the bag upside down on the bed, and out plops a brand-new iPod. “I can’t believe it,” I say, picking it up. “This is amazing! Thank you guys.” I reach out and give them both hugs, which feels really great.

  The two of them leave me to get dressed and the first thing I do is turn on the iPod. Soon enough I’ll be turning it over to Mom as a replacement for losing hers. But it’s all mine for at least another month! I recognize the name of the song that David sang at Apple Grove and put that one on. Then I lie back down and close my eyes. It’s just as beautiful as it was then. So much so, that I can swear I feel the earth spinning again below me