13 Gifts Read online

  By popular demand, Jake and Emily come back out and do their whole number all over again. Behind me, Aunt Bethany weeps openly. She must have used up a whole memory card with all the pictures I heard her taking throughout the play.

  Ray bounds out on the stage when they’re through. “Good on ya, everyone!” he says, slipping back into Aussie. “Bonza job today!” He gestures for the whole cast to go back on stage to take their bows. The audience stands and claps and yells Woo-hoo and takes pictures. Another new emotion fills me — pride. But not pride in myself, pride in people that I care about for being so amazing. I close my eyes, waiting for whatever’s supposed to happen to me to happen. I don’t know what I’m expecting, a voice to come down from heaven? A telegram revealing some big secret?

  Jake’s manager whisks him off the stage pretty quickly, but the applause continues for everyone else. When everyone’s convinced that Jake isn’t coming back out, the clapping peters out, and the room starts to clear. The rest of the cast runs off the stage to wherever their families are waiting. Emily gives me a high five, and runs into her parents’ arms. A tall, thin man in a black T-shirt and jeans heads toward us. I don’t think he’s from around here. I saw him talking to Jake’s manager before. He walks up and introduces himself as a Broadway producer from New York City. “You should try out for my new show,” he tells Emily. “You could have a future on the stage.”

  Emily smiles and says, “Thanks, but my future’s going to be solving the world’s greatest mysteries through math.”

  “Are you sure, Em?” Aunt Bethany asks.

  Emily nods. “It was really fun, but this was Grandma’s dream, not mine. Except for the Jake part, which was totally mine!”

  The producer shrugs and says, “Well, if you change your mind, here’s my card.” I’m sure he’s not used to people turning him down.

  The two other Emilys pull my Emily away, and I drift to the edge of the crowd. Even with all the excitement of the play still rushing through me, an emptiness is rushing in with it. Like, the opposite of what it should feel like when your soul attaches to your body. Was I a fool to believe Angelina when she told me all the stuff that would happen if I did the play?

  I watch Rory and Amanda and David find their families, and wish for the first time that my parents could have been here. I know it’s impossible, but at least it would make this hollow feeling a little less painful.

  I try to keep busy by gathering up the stuff I left in the cabinets behind the ticket table. All the money (which, thankfully, is still there in the gym bag) and the cane and bottle. I figure I’ll give the money to Ray to figure out what to do with. I spot Angelina still in her seat and head over to her first. I don’t have a plan of what to say, so I’m hoping something comes to me before I get there.

  Nope. Nothing. I sit down next to her and wait for her to speak.

  “Ah, my cane!” she says, plucking it right from my hand. “This is yours?”

  She nods. “I must have left it somewhere the other day.”

  “The other day? It’s been in the diner for thirty-five years!”

  “That long?” she says, shaking her head. “Time really flies.”

  “I’m confused. If it wasn’t a prop in the play, but it was on your list, doesn’t that mean that I wrote down the right list after all? You said since I completed the wrong list, I had to put on the play in order to repay my debt. Not to mention the whole thing about finding out why I’m in Willow Falls. Whatever that means.”

  “You kids, always talking in circles. What is it that you’re asking?”

  “Was this the right list after all?”

  She shrugs. “What does it matter?”

  I throw up my arms in exasperation. “It matters! I mean, the whole play —”

  “Wasn’t it wonderful?” she asks, beaming. “Consider your debt repaid!”

  “But I still don’t understand! Why did I have to put on the play in the first place?”

  She shrugs. “It’s one of my favorites.” Then she taps the end of the cane on the floor and starts singing “If I Were a Rich Man.”

  I know there are people milling all around us, laughing and talking, but all I can focus on is Angelina, like we’re in our own little pocket of the world.

  Speaking slowly, I say, “So you’re telling me I did all this because you wanted to see the play and didn’t get a chance to thirty-five years ago? That’s it? You said something special would happen for me afterward, but nothing did. Nothing.” If I were in a cartoon, steam would be coming out of my ears.

  “Nothing happened?” she repeats calmly. Pointing at Emily, she says, “You got that girl to do what she loves in a way that surpassed her wildest dreams. And the boy, the movie star, he got a chance to prove he’s more than just a pretty face.” She points to Bettie. “She always felt hidden in her mother’s shadow. You gave her a chance to shine.” Then she points the cane at Bucky, who is shaking hands with the Broadway producer. “That man stopped playing the violin the night your grandmother bowed out of the play. And look at him tonight. He’s radiant!”

  She points to Ray. “There’s enough money to start up the theatre group again. They’re going to need a director, and who do you think they’ll ask? You got a whole community to come together to celebrate the theatre — something that hasn’t happened in thirty-five years. And your friend over there?” She points to David, who is tossing his hat in the air and trying to catch it on his head. “Did you see his face during his first song? He’s not confused about tradition anymore. He knows exactly what his role is when he stands up there tomorrow for his bar mitzvah. You did all that for everyone, and more. You — the girl who only wanted to sit on the sidelines.”

  “How … how do you know all this about everyone?”

  “Oh, I get around,” she says, her birthmark wiggling.

  I look around the room at my friends. Big Joe is twirling Mrs. Grayson around the stage and she’s giggling like a teenager. Angelina is right about everything she said, except for the last part. I look down at my hands. “But you know I didn’t do any of this for them. I did it all because you told me there was something I needed to know that I could only find out after putting on this play. I never stopped to think what anyone else needed, or wanted, at all. I can’t take any of the credit.”

  She laughs. “Of course you can! Are you so self-centered that you think the universe cares what your motivations are? If a wealthy businessman donates ten million dollars to build a new hospital, would it matter if he only did it to get a building named after him? Not to the people inside it. If everyone waited to do something good until they had purely unselfish motivations, no good would ever get done in the world. The point is to do it anyway. To do it at all.”

  The point is to do it at all. I’d never really done anything big before today. “I never thought of it that way.”

  “And soon enough,” she adds, “it will be easier to see what people need, and how to help them. Only the rarest of young people have that gift from birth.”

  I think about Rory, and how she’s always one step ahead of everyone else. “I don’t think I’d be very good at it,” I admit.

  She shrugs. “It won’t happen overnight. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

  The crowd is thinning now. It’s mostly cast and crew and their families. A few older women are setting up card games, and a group of moms are giving their kids snacks, and chatting. I turn back to Angelina. “So I guess all that stuff about me finding out why I’m here in Willow Falls was just to get me to put on the play?”

  She doesn’t reply.


  She just twirls her cane, the duck’s head twisting toward me, then away, toward, then away. I have to grit my teeth to keep from yelling in frustration as my earlier anger creeps back in. Rory was wrong this time. Angelina doesn’t always come through in the end. I grab the gym bag full of money, and the purple bottle. “Here,” I say, holding out the bottle as I stand up. “This mus