The Last Present Read online

  “I’ll get it,” Leo says, already reaching for my phone. I examine it to make sure nothing broke while he gets the other stuff.

  Rory elbows me. “I can get you a discount on a new one if you need it. I have friends in high places.”

  Rory usually breaks or loses her phone every few months. She’s a legend at the phone store in town. “I’m good,” I tell her as the screen lights up. “But thanks!”

  She runs off to find Tara, and Leo and I meet our parents outside the theatre as we’d arranged. Mom gives me a big hug. “Let’s go celebrate! Ice cream for everyone!”

  I shake my head. “Leo and I have a summer job that starts tomorrow,” I say, looking just to the left of my mom’s eyes.

  She looks surprised. “What kind of job? You didn’t mention it before.”

  “We’ll be helping out at little kids’ birthday parties,” Leo explains. “Like a bowling party one day, the beach the next, that sort of thing.”

  Leo’s mom raises her eyebrow. “And they know you’re only thirteen?”

  Leo nods. “I think they wanted someone close enough to the kids’ ages.”

  They nod, as though that makes some sort of sense. Now I can’t meet anyone’s eyes.

  “Ray said he’d drive us each day,” Leo continues.

  “Who?” his mom asks.

  “Roger St. Claire’s assistant,” my mom explains. “You know, the good-looking Australian?”


  “Oh, right!” Leo’s mom says. “Now I know who you mean. He’s a cutie!”

  “What are we, chopped liver?” my dad asks, pointing at himself and then at Leo’s father, who puffs out his chest.

  “Remind me never to try chopped liver,” Leo whispers.

  “No problem.”

  “So where’s tomorrow’s party?” my mom asks.

  “Bowling,” I reply. “I think we need to be there by noon.”

  “Why don’t we take you?” my dad says. “I haven’t been bowling in ages.”

  “Let’s double-date!” Leo’s mom suggests.

  Leo and I listen in horror as my dad brags about having his own bowling ball and Leo’s dad brags about once having performed a gig at the bowling alley with his high school band that people in Willow Falls still talk about.

  “Funny, I hadn’t heard about it,” my dad says.

  “You must not travel in the right social circles,” he replies, as though my dad travels in any social circles. They’re having way too much fun ruining our plans.

  Tara and Rory and their families join us. Rory’s dad and Tara’s dad are laughing and slapping each other on the back. Tara’s dad makes fun of Rory’s dad for having an orange stripe in his otherwise blond hair, and Rory’s dad explains that it’s some kind of bet gone wrong, but that it pays the cable bill. This explanation doesn’t make any sense to me, but Tara’s dad roars with laughter. I watch them and can’t help thinking what it must be like to see an old friend after nearly half your life has passed. I can’t imagine losing touch with my friends for that long. I look around again for Stephanie, but if she’s here, I don’t see her.

  “Hey,” Rory’s dad calls to Leo’s dad. “You remember Molly and Jimmy Brennan? They were a few years behind you in school.”

  “Of course!” Leo’s dad says, pumping Tara’s father’s hand up and down and giving Tara’s mother a hug. “Our bands played against each other in the battle of the bands one year!”

  Tara’s dad laughs. “You’re right!”

  “Welcome back to town!” Leo’s dad says. “Come bowling with us tomorrow afternoon. We can catch up!”

  “Sounds fun!” Mrs. Brennan says. “It will give me a chance to get to know Tara’s new friends.”

  Tara grins weakly. “Um, I think Amanda and Leo have to work. Right? Maybe we should all go somewhere else?”

  “Bowling sounds good to me,” Rory’s dad says.

  “Bowling!” Sawyer shouts.

  “But …” Leo begins.

  “Don’t worry, honey,” his mother says, putting her arm around his shoulder. “We won’t embarrass you two on your first day of work.”

  “We’ll wait for the second day for that,” my dad adds. “The beach, you said, right? My tan could use some work.”

  “Fab,” I mutter under my breath. My phone dings with a text, so I turn away and pull it out of my bag. I can’t imagine who it could be, since we’re all standing right here.


  “It’s from Kylie!” I say out loud, holding the phone out for everyone to see. I don’t know who’s more surprised, me or Mom.

  Tara smiles. “Maybe you won’t have to wait till you’re grown up.”

  I text Kylie to thank her. As I slip my phone back into my bag, I get a nagging feeling that I’m missing something. While the parents coordinate plans for meeting tomorrow, I pull Leo aside. “Did you pick up the flash drive from the floor? It was in my pocketbook and now I don’t see it.”

  He shakes his head. “I didn’t see it on the floor.”

  “Leo and I have to run back inside,” I tell our parents. “I left something at our seats.”

  I grab his arm and we go against the flow of people to get back in. We run down the aisle to where we were sitting and peer under each seat. The ushers are starting to sweep up, but it doesn’t look like they’ve gotten to our section yet. I spot three quarters, a glove that must have been there since last winter, and a tube of lip gloss, but no flash drive. It would be awful if we came so close to being able to see what went on at the parties and then blew it.

  “Found it!” Leo cries. He’s on his knees two rows in front of where we’d been sitting. I run over in time to watch him pry it free from a wad of freshly chewed grape gum.

  He reaches up to hand it to me but I back away. “No, thanks! Do you know how many germs are on that thing now?”

  I can see the gears turning in his head. Does he try to chase me with it, like we were little kids and he had a spider? After what’s clearly an internal struggle, he sighs and says, “All right, I’ll get a napkin from the concession stand to wipe it off.”

  And my heart swells.

  The ride to the bowling alley is quiet. Or rather, the backseat is quiet. My parents are talking up a storm in the front. You’d think they never went out and had fun with their friends. And really, these aren’t even their friends; they’re an extension of my friends. Although now that I think of it, they rarely do go out unless it’s family stuff. As I get older I’m starting to sense that being a grown-up isn’t nearly as much fun as children want to believe.

  Leo and I tried to figure out a way to convince them to stay home, but came up blank. The best we could come up with is to have Rory and Tara keep all the parents distracted so they don’t notice that we’re not actually in the building, even though we actually are in the building, just a year earlier. Sooo confusing.

  Around six this morning it dawned on me that even though we know we weren’t at Grace’s parties in the past, we could still run into someone we know. Especially at some of the outdoor places, like the beach, where anyone could go. I texted Leo and we both ran around our houses trying to find whatever disguises we could. Sadly, all I came up with was a pair of plastic glasses with bushy eyebrows and a big nose attached that my dad used to wear when he wanted to make me and my sister laugh. I tucked it into my pocket just in case.

  I’d downloaded all of the birthday videos last night and emailed the first one to everyone, including myself. I’ve been watching them on my phone with the volume off the whole ride. They are totally amazing. Mr. Kelly set up a video camera at every party! We can see exactly what went wrong each time. I don’t know what we would have done without this. Oddly, most of the time it looks like Connor was directly involved. Like the one today, at the bowling alley, he walks away with the goody bags right before the end of the party and the kids leave empty-handed. Why would he do that? I wish we could just ask him wi