The Last Present Read online

Tara shakes her head. “I texted Connor while you were gone. He said that Grace seems peaceful, but it would be better if we came tomorrow, instead. They’re still getting her settled at home.”

  “Oh. Okay.” I’m always relieved when, even if the report isn’t much better, it’s not any worse.

  When Rory comes back in, no one even teases her because she looks so bummed. “When will you see him again?” I ask.

  She brightens a little. “Tonight, actually. We’re going to video chat when his plane lands.”

  “Why did he have to leave so suddenly?” Tara asks. I’m glad she asked because I wanted to know but didn’t want to seem nosy.

  She frowns. “It’s Madison. She’s making him go to this event tomorrow for the movie. She was supposed to go alone but now she said it wouldn’t look good if her ‘boyfriend’ wasn’t there.”

  “I know what will make you feel better,” Leo says. He whips out Angelina’s notebook and shows her the page with the check mark on it. “We did it this time! And we managed not to change anything else in the process!”

  She smiles. “I’m glad.”

  I elbow him. “That’s not going to help her feel better.”

  “You can’t blame a guy for trying!”

  “I know,” Tara says, “we’ll hang out tonight, and we’ll do something really girly, like paint our nails all different colors or straighten our hair. We’ll invite Annabelle and Sari. You know, your normal friends? They can bring all their makeup and hair stuff. It’ll be fun.”

  Even though she doesn’t have much experience with having friends, Tara is a fast learner. She’s totally not the nail-painting, hair-straightening, hang-with-a-group-of-girls-she-doesn’t-know type, but she knows what would keep Rory distracted.

  “So I take it we’re the ‘not normal’ friends?” Leo asks.

  “Definitely,” Tara says.

  He nods. “Yeah, I can see that.”

  “Are you in, Amanda?” she asks.

  “I can’t. Kylie is coming home from her summer program. We’re going out to dinner.”

  “I feel left out of this plan,” Ray says, glancing in the rearview mirror at Leo. “How ’bout you?”

  Leo holds up his sand-filled fingernails and pretends to admire them. “I don’t need to go. My nails are already perfect.”

  Rory laughs, which I take as a good sign that we’re cheering her up.

  “So what did you do at the party after taping the balloons?” Tara asks. “You still had a lot of time left, right?”

  Leo and I avoid each other’s eyes. “Um, we didn’t do much, really,” he says. “Played cards, swam in the ocean, the usual beach stuff.”

  “It was really hot there,” I add. I want to tell them (well, not Ray!) about what happened on the sandbar, but I want to keep it to myself a little longer. Luckily Tara asks Ray to tell us about his job as the head of the new Willow Falls Community Theatre and I can lean back and just think. I’m very aware of Leo breathing next to me. I feel the corners of my mouth turn up. Without looking, I can feel him smiling, too.

  Dinner with my parents and Kylie goes on much longer than I’d like it to. Normally I love going out to dinner since we don’t do it very often, but I really want to get home and call Stephanie. After seeing the eleven-year-old version of her today, I’m really missing her. Kylie spends the first half hour talking about what she learned at her two-week-long performing arts camp. Then I have to spend the next half hour telling her about the play on Friday and the bar mitzvah and the premiere.

  “Wow,” she says. “I missed a lot in a week! I promise I’ll be the first to buy a ticket when the movie opens next month.”

  “Look at our girls,” Mom says, beaming at us across the table. “Getting along so well, talking like friends.”

  Kylie and I force smiles. We both know it won’t last long.

  It lasts, in fact, just until we get back home.

  “Why is my blue dress in a heap on the floor of my room?” she asks.

  Oops! I had meant to hang it back up before she noticed I took it.

  “And it has a stain right here.” She holds up the sleeve. “Did you wear this?”

  “No,” I reply honestly. “But my friend Tara didn’t have anything to wear to the bar mitzvah and I didn’t think you’d mind.” Okay, I knew she’d mind. “I couldn’t let Tara go in shorts and a T-shirt, which was pretty much all she had.”

  Kylie sighs. “Fine, whatever. Owen says I get angry too easily. I’m trying to work on that.”

  I don’t know who this Owen is, but I like him already. “What happened to that guy Will? Wasn’t he your boyfriend when you left for camp?”

  She shakes her head and tosses the dress into her hamper. “Will was, like, two months ago. And Brett was the one right before Owen.”

  “So you broke up with Brett for Owen?”

  She flips open her suitcase and nods. “I felt bad about it at first, but Owen and I are, like, soul mates.”

  “Soul mates? How do you know?”

  She shrugs. “When you know, you know.”

  “Oh.” I turn to go.

  “Amanda,” she says, “I know it’s not my business, but I think Leo is holding you back.”

  I slowly turn around. “What do you mean?”

  “Having a boy as a best friend is going to keep other boys from asking you out.”

  I have no idea what to say to that. Kylie’s never talked to me about boys. Ever.

  “Um, okay. I’ll keep that in mind.”

  “It’s just that you’re thirteen now, and you’ve never even mentioned liking anyone. I had my first boyfriend when I was your age. Remember? That kid Jonathan?”

  I nod. I definitely remember Jonathan. “Why did you stop going out with him? He was nice.”

  “Oh, Amanda,” she says, shaking her head. “No one stays with their first boyfriend!”

  I really don’t want to have this conversation. “I’m sorry I borrowed your dress,” I say instead. “Tara really appreciated it, though.”

  She shrugs. “Just ask next time.”

  “Okay,” I say, and hurry to my room. I see the journal Kylie gave me a few years ago sitting, still unused, on my dresser. I wonder if I’d taken her advice and used it, it would be easier to sort out my feelings. I close my door and fish my phone out of my pocket. I might not be able to sort out the Leo thing yet, but I can sort out something at least.

  “I’m really, really sorry,” I tell Stephanie as soon as she picks up.

  “No, I’m really sorry,” she says. “I should’ve come see you after the movie. I was in the back with Mina and Ruby, and they wanted to go to the diner right after to meet the other girls from the team. But you were great. I mean, it was really fun seeing you up there on, like, a ten-foot-tall screen. Why are you sorry?”

  “For not being a better friend. For ditching you when Leo and I made up.”

  She laughs. “That was over two years ago. And you didn’t ditch me. I got busy with other stuff, too. And whenever we do get to hang out, it’s like no time has passed.”

  “Thank you for saying that.”

  “Hey, you’re stuck with me. No one knows me like you do.”

  “Same here,” I say, my throat tightening. “Thank you for doing the play on Friday. You were great.”

  She laughs again. “I totally blew my lines and started doing last year’s tumbling routine onstage! I’m pretty sure there are no cartwheels in Fiddler on the Roof.”

  “There are now!”

  “Hey, how was David’s bar mitzvah?” she asks.

  “He did great, but there’s something else I want to tell you about first.” I take a deep breath. “Leo kissed me.”

  “What?” she shouts into the phone. “Holy smokes! Finally!!”

  I smile, glad I decided to tell her.

  “Well? How was it? I’m dying here!”

  “It was … salty.”


  So I tell her the story of our ocean k