“I’m not playing your dumb game.”
“Let’s play,” Nate said.
“Fine,” Bec agreed without another argument.
“I’ll start,” I said. “Is it bigger than a bread box?”
Hayden opened then shut his mouth. “Really? That’s your first question? Do people even have bread boxes anymore? Are you eighty years old?”
“I play this game with my parents. That’s actually a very smart question. Because if the answer is no, I can automatically rule out a person or a place without having to waste two questions. If the answer is yes, I can rule out insects, rodents, and anything else that might fit in a backpack without having to ask multiple questions.”
“That’s what you should’ve asked. Is it bigger than a backpack?”
“Don’t critique my questions. I have a strategy.”
He bowed his head slightly. “I didn’t realize I had played this game with the master last time. Although I should’ve, with the sheer amount of questions you had about a name.”
“So? Is it bigger than a bread box?”
“What size of bread box?”
“I am the asker, you are the answerer.”
He smiled. “Yes, it is bigger than a bread box.”
Nate went next. “Is it a monkey?”
Bec backhanded him across the chest. “You don’t guess until you get more clues.”
“I wanted to guess. It’s part of my strategy.”
“What strategy is that? The dumbest one ever?”
Hayden met my eyes and mouthed, “See, she needs help.”
“No, it’s not a monkey,” Hayden said aloud. “Your turn, Bec.”
“Is it cold-blooded?” Bec looked at me as she asked this, like she was implying something more with the question.
Hayden seemed to think this as well because he gave her a hard look. “No.”
I had a feeling this day might not turn out as fun as I’d hoped.
“I don’t believe it took you guys three hours to ask sixteen questions. Three hours.”
“It was Gia’s fault. She took the longest with hers,” Bec said.
I laughed. “If you didn’t analyze every one of my questions, Hayden, it wouldn’t have taken me so long. And we still get four more.”
He pulled into the parking lot of the university. “I feel like I need to change my answer to something more exciting after this buildup, like last time.”
“Wait. Are you saying your name isn’t Hayden?”
He gave me a playful tap on my arm with his fist. “No, I meant that there was a huge buildup last time and I felt like I needed to change my name.”
“You can’t change your answer. That’s cheating. But we will pause the game since we’re here.”
“Oh, good, more buildup.” He parked at a metered parking stall and turned off the car.
I looked out the window at the large buildings looming in front of us. We got out of the car and Hayden locked it.
“I’m excited to surprise him. I’ve never done anything like this.”
He added some quarters to the meter. “I’m sure he’ll be very flattered.”
“Or irritated. Either way,” Bec said with a teasing smile.
Hayden put her into a headlock and she squealed in a way I didn’t think her capable of doing. “What’s that, Bec? Irritated? What siblings ever irritate each other?” He released her and she punched him on the chest. He stood in between us as we walked, Nate on Bec’s other side. After a minute Hayden draped one arm around Bec’s shoulder and the other around mine. Oh, good, I’d fallen into the sister category.
I pulled the tickets out to find the name of the building the ceremony was taking place in: Macgowan Hall. I’d been to this campus a few times, a couple of times for Drew and another couple when visiting Bradley, but I didn’t remember where everything was. So we paused in front of a campus map.
My gaze immediately settled on the café where I’d met Bradley. I thought I’d feel something, a tug of loss, a longing, but there was nothing.
“It’s probably in the theater and film department, right?” Hayden’s finger landed right next to the building I had been looking at.
“You’ve been here before?”
“No, I haven’t, but I’m thinking of transferring here eventually. They have an amazing theater program.”
Is that why he wanted to come? To check out the campus, give himself some motivation? “You should just start here, then,” I said. It would be so fun to have Hayden at UCLA with me.
“I need to get my generals out of the way somewhere cheaper.”
“Yeah, not everyone has a scholarship,” Bec said.
How did she know that? Had she researched me or something?
“You have a scholarship to UCLA?” Hayden asked. “I’m learning more about you every minute.”
“I need a picture,” I announced, partly to change the subject and partly because I had an idea. “The three of you stand there by the campus map.”
Hayden started to object but I gave him a little push. “Just do it.”
I backed up several steps and held up my phone. “Okay, hmm, Nate step a little closer to Bec. That’s better. Actually a little closer. Good, now put your arm around her like Hayden is doing. It will look better.” Bec’s cheeks went a little pink and Hayden’s annoyed look at having to take a picture turned into a smile.
After getting something to eat, we arrived at the theater about ten minutes early, but I didn’t see my brother anywhere. “Should I call him?”
“It would be fun for him to see you in the audience,” Bec said. “Then we can talk to him afterward.”
“Okay. Sounds good.” It mostly sounded good because I was nervous. He’d asked me not to come and I was worried I was about to ruin his special night by being here. I shook off the feeling. He’d be happy. I knew I would’ve been if our places were reversed, if I’d seen him in the audience the day I’d given my campaign speech or the many times since that I’ve had to make presentations in front of the school.
A couple of minutes before six, the lights dimmed and a big screen lit up onstage. I was still trying to locate my brother, who I now thought was sitting in the front row. The back of his head looked an awful lot like the backs of several other people’s heads, though: mid-collar-length dark hair. Right as the clock on my phone reached six, a tall man walked out to the podium on the stage and tapped the microphone a few times.