13 Gifts Read online

  The others look at me to respond. I hand Rory my rake and pull David aside. They go off to begin the cleanup.

  “It was supposed to be a surprise,” I tell him, suddenly nervous. This could have been a huge mistake. What if he didn’t want to have his service at Apple Grove? Who am I to think I know what’s best for him? What if his mother gets mad? I swallow hard, unable to continue.

  He takes in the surroundings. The stack of chairs half hidden under a tarp, the podium, the girls frantically raking. Then he turns back to me and whispers, “Is this for my bar mitzvah?”

  I nod meekly. “Just the service. The party would still be at the community center. I mean, if you even want the service here. And we were going to put up a webcam so your dad could see and, well, I just thought, you know, how you said singing outside makes you feel closer to him and —”

  “Are you sure you’re not Jewish?” he asks, cutting me off.

  I shake my head. “I’ve learned a lot about my family today. That probably would have come up. Why do you ask?”

  “Because of what you’re doing.” He reaches out and takes hold of my arms, just above my wrists. “You’re doing tikkun olam. You’re repairing the world.”

  “I am?”

  He nods. “It’s what I’m going to talk about in my speech tomorrow, after all the Hebrew stuff. It’s about how the world is broken up into pieces, and how it’s up to everyone to help put it all back together. It’s about recognizing the spark of life in everyone and everything, and gluing these shards back together.”

  “And I did that? How?”

  “Supposedly when you reach thirteen, you can see the different pieces better. There’s an old teaching that says that, at thirteen, your soul gets stuck into your body. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.”

  “Me, too,” I say softly.

  “Really?” he asks, tilting his head at me.

  I nod and whisper, “I think it might be true.”

  “Me, too,” he whispers back.

  We stand there in silence for a minute, him still holding on to my wrists. I’m suddenly acutely aware that my dad is watching us. “Um, see that tall guy over there giving us the stink eye?”

  He glances over his shoulder. “The guy with Rory’s dad?”

  “That’s the one.”

  “Who is he? Did he help bring the chairs or something?”

  I shake my head. “That’s my dad.”

  “Not in Madagascar anymore?”

  I shake my head. “And if we stand here any longer he’s going to come over and say something really embarrassing, inappropriate, or both. Probably both. So if you care about me at all, you’ll say something like ‘Let’s go hang up the lights, Tara, before it gets totally dark.’”

  “Let’s go hang up the dark, Tara, before it gets totally light.”

  “Close enough, let’s go.”

  Thankfully, Emily’s presence in the backseat means that Dad can’t grill me about David. We make a quick stop at the community center to put up signs directing bar mitzvah guests to Apple Grove. David’s mom (who, fortunately, is willing to go along with the last-minute change but is probably not my biggest fan right now) also said she’d try to reach as many people as possible.

  As soon as we get back to the house, I dash out of my seat, ignoring Dad’s claim that the car has shrunk and that he is now stuck. I trust Emily will help pull him out.

  I run up to the bedroom, hoping to get a minute or two alone. I haven’t gone into my suitcase in at least two weeks, as most everything has been moved out by now. Everything but the hatbox of letters sitting on top of the bag of glass, which is what I have come for. When I pick up the hatbox to move it out of the way, I can tell right away that something feels different. It’s much lighter! I yank off the cover and gasp. It’s completely empty except for a yellow Post-it note on the bottom. I lean in to read it.

  Hope you don’t mind, I mailed these.

  And if you do mind, well, it’s too late now!

  Love, your cousin and friend, Emily

  I sit back, letting the hatbox cover slip from my hand. All those years. All those letters. What is Julie possibly going to think when she gets those? I wonder if she’ll write me back or if she’ll think I’m just totally insane. In a way, though, it feels kind of freeing to have my past winging its way across the country right now. Like it’s freeing me up for the future. I stay on the floor until the initial shock wears off, and then I put the hatbox back together, and leave it on Emily’s desk. Looks like my little cousin is doing her own part to repair the world.

  I carefully pick up the bag of glass and head back downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs I peek around the corner to make sure the coast is clear. It sounds like everyone is in the kitchen, so I creep down the hall toward Ray’s room. Hopefully he’s in there. The radio’s on, which is a good sign.

  I knock. “Ray? It’s me, Tara. I need your help.”

  Even in the bright sunshine, the tiny lights we strung on the trees and along the edges of the podium glitter like diamonds. A chair right in front of the podium holds a laptop that Connor rigged up not only to broadcast David to his father, but to bring his father to David, too. About a hundred people have come to watch David become a man.

  Mom and Dad are sitting next to me, in borrowed clothes that are about a zillion times more glamorous than anything they own. Mom hasn’t let go of Dad’s hand once. I think finally knowing how he really feels about her has been the best gift he could ever give her. I have a feeling the jewelry boxes will stop flowing in now. The rabbi starts talking about love and responsibility, and the worst thought creeps into my head — what if Dad lied last night? What if he hadn’t actually spilled out the juice? Isn’t that exactly what someone who was in love would say they did to make the other person happy?

  I look over at their hands, so tightly entwined it’s hard to tell whose fingers are whose. Well, it would be hard if Dad’s weren’t twice as large as a normal human’s. Maybe it doesn’t matter how their love began. Still, I wish I knew for sure.

  There are so many people in suits and dresses that the service is almost over before I notice Angelina sitting in the back row, wearing that same purple scarf around her head that she wore on the train. I’ve gotta hand it to her. Root canal and painkillers. The woman knows what she’s doing. I still don’t know how she managed to steal my stuff.

  Our eyes meet. She mouths something, and as clear as if she was sitting next to me, I hear her say, “Look in your bag.”

  Confused, I reach under my seat for the beaded purse Aunt Bethany loaned me. I was going to bring the little backpack Dad gave me for the train, but one look at Aunt Bethany’s horrified face this morning and I knew that wasn’t going to cut it. I open the drawstring to find a small package with a note wrapped around it.

  Happy Birthday to the girl who thought she wanted to sit this one out.

  Tell your mother her debt is repaid.

  After I read the note, I turn around to find Angelina’s seat empty. Figures. I open the package as quietly as I can, and find Mom’s iPod with the headphones still wrapped around it. I lean across Dad and place the iPod on her lap as though I just remembered I had it.

  “Oh, that’s okay,” she whispers, putting it back on my own lap. “I was going to let you keep it anyway.”

  Sigh. That figures.

  David starts singing Shalom Rav and I wouldn’t be surprised if every apple tree in the place started to bloom. I’m so focused on listening that I don’t notice the birds until the whispering around me finally catches my attention. Max and Flo, the two hawks, have landed on the edge of the fountain, only a few feet away from David and the rabbi. They sit and listen to him sing, heads tilted toward each other, talons entwined.

  Dad suddenly squeezes my hand to get my attention. He and Mom are silently laughing so hard that their faces are bright red and their eyes are bulging. “The birds,” Dad gasps. “I think they drank the love potion!” My eyes almost b