The Last Present Read online

  He pats me on the shoulder. “That’s my smart girl.”

  Miraculously, Leo/Leon manages to fix the screens. Mostly he gets lucky by pushing the right buttons in the right order. Mrs. Kelly asks if I wouldn’t mind helping her set up the table where the girls are going to have lunch after they bowl. While I lay out the plates and cups, I watch her fill the goody bags with a mixture of candy and little toys like notebooks and glitter pens. Nothing looks enchanted to me, but Angelina works in mysterious ways. Clearly.

  I pull Leo aside and point to the video camera. It’s propped up next to the pile of gifts. It feels too risky to be so involved with the party when the incident with the goody bags won’t happen for a long time. We slip away, unnoticed. Without discussing it, we return to the mirrored trophy case.

  “You look cute in braces,” Leo says, grinning at my reflection.

  I run my tongue along my teeth. “It’s so weird. I don’t feel them at all.”

  He moves his finger on the bridge of his nose. In the mirror, his glasses rise up an inch. “Freaky. I don’t feel these, either. It’s like my hand is touching thin air.”

  “You look very smart with them on. Like a young professor.”

  “You’re saying I don’t look smart otherwise?”

  “I’m just saying, you should get a pair for school. The teachers might give you better grades if they think you’re suddenly smarter.”

  “I don’t think it works that way.”

  Once we’ve stared at our strange selves for long enough, we move into the cafe area. After making sure none of the coins was minted after today’s date, Leo treats us to an order of French fries. We find a table in the back where the sound of flying pins hitting wood is a bit muffled.

  I munch on a fry and then ask, “Isn’t time travel supposed to be, you know, more exciting than this?”

  “You mean more exciting than eating soggy French fries in a noisy bowling alley that smells very strongly of dirty socks?”

  “Yes, exactly. Like, aren’t we supposed to be able to win the lottery now or something?”

  He looks thoughtful. “We would have had to look up the winning numbers before we left, then when we got to the past, we would have had to buy the ticket. And, you know, be old enough to buy the ticket, which we’re not.”

  “True. And I guess that would count as playing with the future, which Angelina warned us about.” I pull another fry from the pile. “Well, there’s got to be something cool we can do.”

  Leo shrugs. “After a year of not being able to do it, I’m just happy to be here talking with you. And by you, I mean Amy, of course.”

  “I wonder if Amy’s getting French fries caught in her braces.”


  We finish eating and I duck out of the cafe to see what’s happening with the party. “They’re on to the pizza now,” I report back. “A few more minutes to go.”

  “Should we just try to stop him now?” Leo asks. “I mean, why wait until he tries to steal them?”

  “That’s a good idea. Okay, you go distract him.”

  “Why me?”

  “He sort of already knows you. I mean, he knows Leon.”

  “How am I supposed to distract him?”

  “I don’t know. Talk about whatever boys talk about.”

  “What is it you think boys talk about?”

  “Sports? Girls? Sports?”

  He rolls his eyes. “You forgot video games.”

  “Yes! Connor loves video games! Good, now go.” I give him a little shove.

  “Wow, Amy’s bossy,” he says, making a big show of stumbling forward.

  The party area is bustling with activity. Girls are laughing and eating, Mr. Kelly pours lemonade, while Mrs. Kelly accepts a present from a tall but slightly stooped older man who must be Connor and Grace’s grandfather. I remember him from the video, but the true brightness of his hair didn’t come through on film. It’s really weird seeing an old man with red hair, let alone fire-engine red hair. It doesn’t exactly go with the wrinkles.

  I search for Connor and find him on the floor, lining up the shoes to return. He really is such a helpful older brother. I find it hard to believe he would ruin Grace’s birthday in any way. But videos don’t lie. Leo/Leon sits on one of the hard plastic seats across from him and they start talking. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but Connor’s not even glancing at the goody bags. I think this is going to work! One birthday fixed, only two more to go!

  But then his grandfather goes over and tells Connor something, and he looks over at the goody bags and stands up. “No, no, no,” I say out loud. But he walks right over to the goody bags and picks up the whole box. I watch helplessly as Connor carries the box away from the party and into a door marked OFFICE STAFF ONLY.

  “Why didn’t you stop him?” I ask Leo when he hurries back over to me.

  “I couldn’t. His grandfather told him to do it.”

  “What? His grandfather told him to steal the goody bags and ruin the party?”

  He shakes his head. “No, of course not. Apparently the bowling alley gives each kid at the party a free pass to come back. The manager told his grandfather to bring the goody bags into the office so they can put the coupon, or whatever, into all the bags. Connor offered to carry the box. How could I have stopped him?”

  “I guess you couldn’t.” We stand by helplessly as Connor comes back out of the room empty-handed. We watch the room for a few minutes, but no else goes in or out. “This is so weird. Why wouldn’t Connor have gone back to get them, then? Maybe they got lost or something? Or given away to the wrong party?”

  “Let’s not wait to find out.” He yanks me in the office with him. I expect to find someone stuffing the bags, but the small room is empty. No staff person stuffing goody bags, and worst of all, no box of goody bags at all! The box has vanished! Leo points to a back door marked EMERGENCY EXIT. “Maybe someone left through there?” He’s about to push the door open.

  “Wait, what if it sets off an alarm?”

  “We’ll have to take our chances.” He gives the door a quick push and no alarms go off. The door opens on to the same view as the parking lot, just farther down. There’s nowhere for anyone to hide. We peer into the drizzle. “I don’t see anyone.”

  “Me, neither,” I say. “On the video the next thing that happens is they realize the goody bags are gone and everyone looks around and then they kind of give up. Right?”

  He nods. “Why wouldn’t Connor just tell them where he brought them? It doesn’t make sense.”

  We watch from a few lanes down as it all unfolds. They look around for the bags. They argue over who did what with them. It’s not even worth telling them what happened, since we still don’t know where the bags disappeared to. “So is that it?” I ask. “Did we fail our first time out?”

  “Not necessarily,” Leo says. “Angelina didn’t say we had to replace the goody bags with the exact same goody bags, right?”

  “No, I guess she didn’t. But where would we get new goody bags? The kids’ parents are going to be here in a few minutes to pick them up.”

  Leo looks around the crowded bowling alley for answers. “How much money do you have?”

  I fish through my pockets and pull out two quarters and a dime. I hold them up. “What about you?”

  “I have a dollar left after buying the fries. I didn’t think about bringing money with us. We’re going to have to do better with that next time.”

  We’ll have to do better with a lot of things next time. “Well, what can we buy in a bowling alley with a dollar sixty?”

  Leo points to the gum-ball machines a few feet away. “It’s a tough call. You’ve got your standard rubber balls in multiple colors, your glitter stickers, or your temporary tattoos in the shape of beloved childhood television characters.”

  “They’re SpongeBobs, aren’t they?”

  He nods.

  “Let’s go with the balls. They look like little bowling balls, t