13 Gifts Read online

  I feel my cheeks get warm, first because David knew my name, and second because I’ve rarely been a guest before, to say nothing of the guest of honor. “I guess I am,” I admit. “And David’s the Hamburglar?”

  He nods. “When my mom and I moved here in third grade, my only friend for a while was this kid Connor. My last name’s Goldberg, so he started calling me Burger, then Hamburger, then the Hamburglar. It just stuck.”

  Amanda and Leo appear from out of the crowd, blackboards swinging on their chests. “Rory,” Amanda says, “I thought you said your brother only eats pizza and soft pretzels.”

  “He added hot dogs last month.”

  “We learned that the hard way,” Leo says, wiping his hands on his jeans.

  Amanda turns to David. “Nice rescue, Bee Boy.”

  David thumps his chest again, then bows deeply.

  Bar Mitzvah Boy = The Hamburglar = David Goldberg = Bee Boy?

  Noticing my confused expression, Amanda explains, “It’s from a thing that happened in fifth grade.”

  “Did he get stung by a bee or something?”

  Amanda and Leo laugh. “No,” Amanda says, “he looked like one.”

  I glance at David, who, in his blue shorts and white button-down shirt does not in any way resemble a bee. Emily was right; these two are a little odd.

  “I didn’t look like a bee,” David insists.

  “Yeah, you did,” Amanda says. “You were wearing black and yellow, and you flew out of the classroom door like, well, a bee toward a flower!”

  David shakes his head. “I still don’t understand how you just happened to show up that day with a spare drawing of the periodic table in your pocket. I would have failed for sure, otherwise.”

  “Doesn’t everyone carry a spare periodic table in their pocket?” Amanda asks innocently. “Hey, remember how you almost killed Leo when you banged the door open?”

  David looks confused. “I don’t remember Leo being there.”

  Leo scribbles something on his board and tilts it toward Amanda. She slaps herself on the side of the head. “Oh, you’re right, Bee Boy! I was thinking of something else.”

  Leo loops the chalk back over his blackboard and turns to me. “Tara, after the party, do you want us to show you around town?”

  In my whole life, a boy has never asked me to go anywhere with him. I take a closer look at him. Leo’s definitely cute, with blue eyes, a dimple, and that dark black curly hair. He and Amanda stand very close to each other, but not in a way that makes other people feel left out. Even though he’s obviously not asking me on a date, I honestly have no idea how to respond.

  “It’ll be fun,” Amanda insists. “We’ll show you all our favorite places. And I bet we can get a ride out to Apple Grove after.”

  Apple Grove doesn’t sound all that exciting. But I’ve lived in enough small towns to know that you take your fun where you can get it. The four of them are waiting for an answer. Mom would be thrilled. I’m here less than twenty-four hours and already four kids my age want to hang out with me. With no breaking and entering involved. I look from one to the other. They all seem so … nice. A little strange (okay, a lot strange), but nice.

  But I just can’t do it. “I … I lost my cell phone on the train,” I tell them, staring at a random spot over Leo’s left shoulder. “Or it was stolen or something, I’m not really sure. But my uncle’s going to take me to replace it this afternoon.”

  Rory grabs hold of my arm. Normally my first instinct would be to pull away. I’m not used to being touched by anyone who isn’t related to me. But I fight the urge because it’s Rory and there’s something different about her.

  “That’s not a problem,” she says eagerly. “We could take you there. The phone store’s right downtown. They moved from the mall last summer. Robert’s still the manager, though.”

  This girl sure knows a lot about the phone store.

  As though reading my mind, she says, “I spend a lot of time there.”

  I take that to mean Rory has a crush on the store manager.

  “So, Tara,” David says. “How come you decided to spend the summer in the thrill-a-minute town of Willow Falls?”

  I stiffen as they all turn toward me expectantly. I mumble something about my mom’s job until Aunt Bethany saves me by showing up with a plate of hot dogs. I could tell them the “no kids allowed” story, but I really don’t want to lie. I just don’t want to tell the truth, either. I make sure to chew my hot dog slowly and thoroughly, so hopefully by the time we’re done eating they’ll have forgotten that the question is still hanging in the air, with no good answer to satisfy it.

  Chapter Seven

  We only pass through one traffic light on the way into downtown Willow Falls. I’ve lived in some small towns, but this one is the smallest and quaintest of them all. Old-fashioned streetlights line Main Street, and the bump bump bump of Uncle Roger’s tires tells me we’re driving on cobblestones. I spot a small library, a diner, music store, bookstore, toy store, a few clothing stores, and a movie theatre. Each one has a brightly colored awning hanging over the door, so they all kind of match. Uncle Roger’s is the only little red sports car on the road, though. I’m surprised I haven’t heard any complaints from the passengers in the backseat. That might be because they’re squished in so tightly the air is being sucked from their lungs.

  “Here we are,” Uncle Roger says, pulling up next to the curb.

  “Thanks for driving us,” I tell him.

  “My pleasure. You sure you don’t need me to help deal with the insurance?”

  From the cramped backseat Rory squeaks, “I’ve got this one, Mr. St. Claire.”

  I hop out and push my seat forward so the others can exit. Rory untangles her arms and legs and climbs out first, followed by Amanda, Leo, and David, who makes a loud umph sound as he pushes himself out.

  “Okay. Call me if you need to be picked up.”

  I watch as he pulls away and then I follow the others into the phone store. All the people working in the store turn to look. Their faces light up.

  “Rory!” One of the women actually claps.

  A guy wearing a blue suit and a manager’s badge hurries out from behind the counter. “Two months now, right? A personal best for Rory Swenson!” He clutches a small red notebook in one hand and a pen in the other. He must be at least in his thirties. Late thirties, even. Why would Rory have a crush on this guy?

  Rory puts her hands on her hips. “What makes you think I’m here because I lost my phone?”

  The manager’s smile fades. “Aren’t you?”

  She sighs. “Yes.”

  “Rory!” Amanda says, laughing. “Are you serious?”

  Rory nods and slumps her shoulders. “I know, I’m pathetic.” But then she straightens up and points to me. “But I’m not only here for me. This is my new friend, Tara. She lost hers, too.”

  I give a little wave.

  The manager beams. “Any friend of my best customer is a friend of mine. Want to see the book?”

  Quick as a flash, he spreads open the small notebook and flips to an early page. He drops his finger onto it and says, “Here she is! Under fifteen minutes to lose her first phone. It’s still a companywide record! Then a few weeks later she brought in a waterlogged one, then a month after that was my personal favorite — her phone was run over by a bulldozer.”

  Rory blushes. “They were about to plow down all the apple trees Amanda and Leo planted. And that cute little birdbath. It’s been up there since Willow Falls was founded.”

  Amanda puts her arm around Rory’s shoulder. “Throwing your cell phone at that huge bulldozer was very brave.”

  “Hey,” Rory says, jutting out her chin, “it worked, didn’t it?”

  “That, and the grant from the city,” David says.

  Rory kicks him in the shin.

  Ten minutes later, Leo and Amanda have had a full conversation through their blackboards, David has played with every electronic gad