The Last Present Read online

  He crosses over to the bed. “I heard Amanda tell the nurse that she wants to help,” he says. “I want to help, too. Grace is a really good kid and she doesn’t deserve this, whatever it is.” His voice cracks. “She’s really goofy and much smarter than me and she laughs at my jokes even when they’re really bad, which they usually are.”

  I let out a sigh of relief. He didn’t hear us. Angelina keeps her eyes averted from Connor’s as she fluffs the pillow behind Grace’s head and lifts Grace’s wrist to take her pulse.

  Now that I can breathe again, I walk over to him. “Whatever we can do, just ask, okay, Connor? We can bring her favorite things; maybe that will help somehow.”

  He nods and sniffles. “That’s a good idea.” Then in a whisper he asks, “What if she’s in pain?”

  “She doesn’t look like she’s in pain to me,” I say truthfully.

  “I … I guess not,” Connor says, studying his sister’s face.

  “I don’t think so, either,” Angelina says, speaking for the first time since Connor arrived. “She’s not in any danger, don’t worry. We will do everything we can to keep her comfortable until she comes around.”

  A second later the door swings open again. The Kellys barely even notice us in their rush to get to Grace’s bedside. We quickly part to let them through. Angelina explains about closing Grace’s eyes, and I can see Mrs. Kelly’s disappointment that they didn’t shut on their own.

  “All right,” Angelina says, all businesslike again. “Time for visitors to go.”

  Mrs. Kelly turns to me and Leo. “Did someone drop you off?”

  “Our friend Ray is waiting outside,” I tell her. “The guy who directed the play? He’s going to take us back to David’s party.”

  “I’d like you to join your friends,” Mrs. Kelly tells Connor. “David worked very hard for this day and without his father there, well, he should have his best friend. We’ll call you with any news.”

  Connor tries to argue, but Mrs. Kelly holds up her hand. “We’ll be fine. Your aunts will be here soon, so we’ll have plenty of company.”

  “Fine,” Connor grumbles. “But I’ll be back as soon as it’s over.”

  Angelina makes a note on the chart hanging off the end of Grace’s bed. Then she says to Connor, “Why don’t you say good-bye to your sister while I get these two some volunteer badges.” She doesn’t wait for his response before ushering us out the door. “We’ll meet you in the lobby,” Leo calls back to him.

  Angelina leads us into an empty waiting room at the far end of the hall, past the elevators. “We don’t have much time,” she says, reaching into her pocket. She hands me a small spiral notebook. “I recorded my plans for each party in there. It will tell you the exact point in each party where the benediction failed. Once that moment passes, so does your chance to fix it.”

  I flip open the notebook and immediately recognize Angelina’s small, even handwriting. Each page lists where the party was held and what object or action carried the benediction. I read out loud, “Ninth birthday: bowling alley, goody bags, must be distributed. Eighth birthday: beach, balloons, must stay tethered. Seventh birthday —”

  “All right, you can study them tonight and prepare your strategy. We still have a lot to go over.”

  “The premiere is tonight,” Leo reminds her.

  “The what?”

  “The premiere?” he repeats. “For the movie they filmed at our school last year that Amanda and Rory and I were extras in? Starring the world-famous Jake Harrison and Madison Waters? Jake, who’s, like, almost dating Rory now?”

  She gives him a blank stare, totally uninterested in what was no doubt the most exciting thing to happen in Willow Falls since, well, ever.

  “As I was saying,” she continues, “you’ll go over the material so you’re as prepared as possible. You will be revisiting each birthday in order from the most recent to the most distant. You will begin tomorrow, at the bowling alley, the location of last year’s birthday party. You will need to be there before the party begins. Once you are in place, your great-great-grandfathers’ curse will begin and you’ll be transported back in time to the same spot.”

  “I prefer the word enchantment, or spell,” Leo says. “Curse sounds so gloom and doom-ish.”

  “You may call it whatever you like,” she snaps, “just do not be late. When your mission is complete, you will return to the place from which you left, and you will be transported back to the present.”

  I have so many questions, but I start with, “What if we can’t stop it from going wrong? Can we keep going back to that same party until we get it right?”

  She shakes her head. “You will only be able to visit each day once. Whether you succeed or fail, the following day will bring you to the previous birthday. Remember, you only need to succeed three times. Your journey back in time can end in three days, or in nine. Aim for three.”

  My stomach growls. I had been too nervous to have breakfast this morning. I really should have grabbed some of those mini–hot dogs at the bar mitzvah.

  Worry flits across Leo’s face. “What you said before, about time moving forward here while we’re gone? If that’s true, then when we go to the past, we’ll just disappear from the present. That’s something our parents are gonna notice.”

  “Hmm, I hadn’t really considered that.” She thinks for a moment, then clicks her tongue. “Well, you’ll come up with something.”

  “Great,” we both mutter.

  “We need to get back to the bar mitzvah before David gets suspicious,” I tell her. “We don’t want him to know about Grace until after, so it doesn’t ruin his party.”

  “Hey, when will Amanda and I be able to talk again?” Leo asks.

  Angelina pulls two volunteer badges from her pocket. She hands both of them to me. “You can talk now if you want. Just beware of breaking the curse too soon. Do it in the past, and you’ll be trapped there.”

  Leo and I stare at each other, wide-eyed. We can talk again! He gives a single shake of his head and I know exactly what he means. Not here. When we’re alone. I turn back to Angelina to remind her that the little apple trees, which kept the curse from breaking last time, have now been planted in Apple Grove. But she’s gone. Vanished in that way that only she can do.

  Leo lifts up his blackboard and scribbles, How does she do that?

  I won’t miss these, I scribble back.

  Let’s take the stairs, he writes, and points to the sign outside the small room.

  I nod. Something about being in a hospital makes the idea of flying down stairs sound really appealing. He grabs my hand and we run down the whole three flights without stopping. I hold the blackboard to my chest so it doesn’t keep smacking me. All I can think is We can talk! We can talk! It’s like having your birthday present waiting for you at the end of your bed, but going to brush your teeth first.

  We meet Connor by the front door. On the way to the parking lot, he asks, “Do you think Ray would mind stopping at my house first? I want to pick up a few things of Grace’s to bring back with me, like you suggested.”

  “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind,” I say. “He’s pretty adaptable.”

  Ray is leaning against his car door when we arrive. “So, I see today is still today.”

  Connor raises his eyebrows. “As opposed to next Thursday?”

  Ray opens his mouth to answer, but Leo gives him a quick shake of his head. After Connor ducks into the car I whisper to Ray not to say anything about what we told him. I can tell by the way he keeps tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he drives that he wants to know what happened with Angelina. That will have to wait. Angelina made it very clear that Connor can’t find out.

  When we get to his house, Connor runs right up to Grace’s room and starts sweeping things off her dresser into a small duffel bag. Without turning around he says, “Will you guys grab me some movies for Grace to watch? They’re on a shelf in my dad’s office at the end of the hall.”