The Last Present Read online

  “Hey, kid,” the lifeguard calls out. It takes us a few seconds to realize he’s talking to Leo. “You might want to take off your sunglasses before you go in any farther. If a wave comes and smacks you in the face, it could hurt. I’ve seen it happen. I’ll hold ’em if you want.”

  “But I’m not wear … oh, right, got it. Thanks!”

  Leo lifts up his (to us, invisible) sunglasses and hands them out to the lifeguard. To my shock, a pair of actual sunglasses appears in the lifeguard’s hand. He tucks them in his bathing shorts and heads back to the lifeguard stand.

  “That was crazy,” Leo says.

  “So crazy.”

  Leo grabs my hand. “Ready?”

  I nod. We dive into the water. I stop caring about what I, or Amy, look like and just have fun with my best friend. We duck under waves and discover a sandbar to stand on where the water only comes to our waists. The only other people on it are a dad with his son riding piggyback. With his mass of black curls, the boy reminds me of a young Leo. The boy waves good-bye as they plunge back into the water. Over the noise of the waves and the people splashing in them, I cup my hands and say, “How weird is it that right now, back in Willow Falls, the current versions of ourselves are just going about their day?”

  “I’ll tell you one thing, they — I mean, we — aren’t doing.”


  “Talking to each other.”

  He’s right! This is the Year of the Big Fight. It’s mid-July now, so that’s a little over a month since our birthday. I’m probably hiding down in my basement, banging my drums and feeling sorry for myself.

  He steps closer to me, the water swishing around us. “I wish I could call myself up and tell myself to march over to your house right now and beg for your forgiveness. I hate that I hurt your feelings. You’re the most important person in my life. I mean, you know, besides the people who gave me life in the first place. I was planning on writing you a poem about it — a better one than I wrote when we were eleven, but the summer has been so busy with Tara and everything that I never got the chance.”

  Leo’s apologized before, of course, but never like this. I don’t know what to say. A lone swimmer lands on our sandbar, then pushes right back off without giving us a second glance. “I forgave you a long time ago,” I finally come out with. “You know that. We were just kids.”

  The water pushes us even closer together and I shiver, but not because I’m cold. My toes dig into the soft sand in an effort to steady myself. Leo’s hand reaches out for my arm. Warm and strong, it keeps me from floating away. My eyes have to fight their way up his face until they meet his. How many times have I looked into those blue eyes? A thousand? A million? But it’s felt different these past few weeks. Seeing Rory with Jake, and the way Tara and David look at each other when they don’t think anyone’s watching. And then the hand holding on the way to the diner yesterday. I know things are changing but I’m not sure I want them to.

  A small wave pushes the water higher around us. Suddenly I realize that our math was wrong. We’re back in time only two years. We would have to go back one more year to be in the midst of our fight. The versions of ourselves that we’d find today would have made up already. I should tell Leo, but I don’t want to ruin this moment because it feels important.

  My eyes still locked with his, I’m suddenly hyperaware of everything. The blue sky, the tiny bubbles on the water, my hair wet against my shoulders, the dimple on Leo’s cheek that I’m so used to seeing I don’t even notice it anymore. But I see it now. I see all of him. I shiver again.

  “Are you cold?” Leo asks. “Do you want to get out?”

  I shake my head slightly. “I’m fine. I just realized that we —”

  And then his lips are on mine. The water and people and sky vanish. I’m not sure I remember how to breathe.

  One kiss. And just like that, everything — and nothing — changes between us.

  We return to our towels and wrap them around ourselves. My head is spinning. Leo kissed me. We kissed. I can’t believe it actually happened. I keep stealing glances to see if I can tell what he’s thinking. He looks completely at ease and happy. Not the slightest sign of head spinning. He spreads out his towel and we both plop down on it. I narrow my eyes at him. “You just kissed me.”

  He beams. “I know.”

  “You seem pretty pleased with yourself.”

  “Oh, I am,” he says. “I’ve wanted to do that my whole life.”

  “You wanted to kiss me when we were four?”


  “And when we were eight?”


  “But you figured you’d wait until we were thirteen, out in the middle of the ocean, stuck two years in the past with nothing better to do?”

  “That’s right. You got a problem with that?”

  I shake my head. “But you know, I’m not sure it counts. We’re not really us, here. I mean, basically Amy and Leon just had their first kiss.”

  He laughs. “We’ll have to fix that.” He leans across the towel like he’s going to kiss me again.

  I hold up my hand. “Still Amy!”

  “Don’t care,” he says.

  But before he reaches me, I hear two girls giggle. One says, “They’re about to kiss!”

  I assume they’re girls from the birthday party, but then something about that voice makes me open my eyes. I didn’t even realize I had closed them! The two girls giggling behind their hands aren’t Grace’s friends. I jump up from the towel so fast that I get dizzy.

  “It’s okay,” Leo says, pulling me back down. “They won’t recognize us.”

  “C’mon, Stephanie,” the shorter girl in the red two-piece says, “let’s go practice.”

  Apparently no longer interested in us, the two girls walk to an empty patch of beach a few feet away and start doing cartwheels. A part of me wants to go running in the opposite direction, while another part wants to run up to Stephanie, pull her away from Ruby — who has still never really been nice to me — and tell her all about what happened on the sand dune. Next to Leo, she’s been my best friend my whole life. This past year was the first time we didn’t sit together at lunch. I miss her.

  “Are you okay?” Leo asks.

  I can’t help staring at them. I just saw Stephanie a few days ago when we did the play together. This version of her looks like a kid, not a teenager. Two years ago, they’d have just made the gymnastics team. Stephanie was so excited about it. Ruby moves on to back handsprings. She always was amazing at those. “Keep your hands straighter!” a woman yells from a beach chair nearby. Judging by their matching black ponytails, I’m going to guess that’s her mother.

  Ruby tries again. It looks perfect to me.

  “You can do better than that,” the woman scoffs. “You want to get cut from the team already?”

  Stephanie backs away, looking uncomfortable. “Um, I’ll be right back,” she says. Ruby barely notices. She’s too busy trying to please her mother. I actually feel a little sorry for her. Stephanie always said Ruby wasn’t as bad as I made her out to be. Maybe she feels sorry for her, too.

  I watch Stephanie dig into her beach bag and come up with her phone. I remember she got hers a few months before I did. She turns her back to Ruby and punches in a number.

  “Hi, Mrs. Ellerby,” she says. “Is Amanda there?”

  “It’s almost time to go,” Leo says, but I can’t turn away.

  “She’s calling me!” I whisper.

  “I know, but maybe it’s not right to listen.”

  Connor suddenly appears at our towel. Leo and I both whip our heads toward the party. Thankfully the balloons are still there.

  “My sister’s party is almost over,” Connor says. “My mom told me you have scissors? Can you cut the balloons off so I can fold up the chair?”

  “Sure,” Leo/Leon says. “I’ll bring them right over.”

  Connor nods and runs back to his family. While Leo digs through his