Chapter no 64 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

They found the box hidden behind some loose panels in the back of the closet. Grayson examined it. Wooden, large enough to hold a laptop or a stack of paper files. The wood was hard and sandy in color, and there was no visible hinge or lid on the box, nothing to indicate how to open it.

Clearing a space on the bed, Grayson set the box down. His sisters came closer.

“Crowbar?” Gigi suggested. “Or a hammer of the sledge variety?”

Grayson shook his head. The top of the box—assuming that was the top

—appeared to be made of individual strips of wood the width and length of a ruler, bound tightly together. Seams were visible, but impenetrable, so Grayson did what any Hawthorne would have done in his position. He turned the box ninety degrees and pushed at the ends of each and every one of those strips of wood.

On the seventh, he was rewarded: The piece slid out from the others. He pushed it gently until it fell off the box, then examined what lay underneath: another wood panel, solid but for a single hole, just large enough to fit a finger in.

Grayson probed both the panel and the hole before attempting to use the hole to lift the lid of the box.

No dice.

“What are you doing?” Savannah asked.

“It’s a puzzle box.” Grayson kept his reply brief as he turned his attention to the strip of wood he’d removed. Turning it over in his hand, he was rewarded. Carved into the back of the strip of wood, was a long, thin

space—and that space held a tool. It was roughly the length of a toothbrush but very thin. One side had a point like the tip of a pen. The other was flat and heavier. Magnetic, most likely, Grayson thought.

“What do you mean a puzzle box?” Gigi asked earnestly.

“The puzzle is finding your way into the box,” Grayson replied. “Call it an added level of security, in case your aunt decided she wanted to know what was inside.”

He dipped the tool into the hole he’d uncovered, first the pen side, then the probable magnet. Nothing happened, so Grayson began running the magnet end over the rest of the box—the top, the sides, then he turned the box over and tried the bottom.

The magnet stuck, and when Grayson pulled, another small wooden panel came off the box, this one in the shape of a T. A quick examination revealed another hole—just large enough for the pen end of the tool. Grayson stuck the pen in. He heard a click, then tested the pen’s movement and realized that he could slide the hole—from the top left corner of the T to the bottom center.

When he did, there was another click. Grayson turned the box back over.

“Seriously,” Gigi said. “What is happening here?”

“My grandfather was fond of puzzle boxes,” Grayson told her. “I just unlocked something. We need to figure out what.”

He attempted to remove the top of the box again, but that didn’t work. “Why don’t we just get a saw?” Savannah asked.

“And risk destroying what’s inside?” Grayson replied mildly.

“I’m ninety-seven percent sure that I can very delicately saw that thing open,” Gigi said.

“And what if it’s tamper-proof?” Grayson asked. “For example, there could be two vials of liquid suspended inside in thin glass tubes designed to break if the box is ruptured. And if those liquids mix…” He trailed off ominously.

“Seriously,” Savannah replied. “You think our dad booby-trapped his

puzzle box?”

“I think,” Grayson replied, “that he didn’t want anyone but himself accessing whatever’s inside.”

He returned his attention to the box. Something had been unlocked.

Grayson tried coming at the top from the side again. None of the remaining strips were loose; none could be pushed out. But when he pressed on the edge of one of those strips, it depressed with a pop, the other end of the strip rising.

Grayson tried using the hole to lift the top again, no dice.

Gigi reached forward and touched another strip. It went down, the same way the one Grayson touched had. She grinned. “Let’s try all of them!”

Before Grayson could say a single word, Gigi had worked her way down the strips, like she was playing a scale on a piano. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. This time, she was the one who tried snaking a finger down into the hole and lifting the panel.

No go.

“It’s a combination.” Savannah stared at the box but didn’t move to touch it. “We just have to figure out the right keys to hit.”

Grayson stared at the board. Seven keys, which can be pushed down on either side or left neutral. “There’s more than two thousand possible combinations,” he said.

Gigi grinned. “Then we better get started!”



It took forty minutes of systematic attempts before they got lucky and hit on the right combination. When they did, there was another audible click, and this time, when Grayson hooked his finger through the hole in the wood panel, he was able to remove the entire top of the box.

Underneath, they were faced with more wood. Darker, smoother, polished. Grayson ran his hand lightly over its surface. It was made from a single a piece of wood. There wasn’t a single seam, no parts that could be moved or removed.

There was, however, a small rectangular hole cut into its surface. No, Grayson realized. Not a hole.

“We need something to insert in that, right?” Gigi said. She leaned over him and aimed the light from her phone at the rectangle. “Something with teeny tiny pins?”

Savannah reached for the tool that Grayson had uncovered earlier, but it

was much too big. The entire rectangle wasn’t much bigger than…

A USB port. Grayson stilled. He thought of the object he’d found, hidden in a frame in Sheffield Grayson’s office. The object that wasn’t a USB.

The object that was, quite obviously now, a key.



Fourth of July at Hawthorne House meant a carnival—a private one complete with Ferris wheel, bumper cars, a massive roller coaster, and dozens of challenges and games. From his perch on top of the tree house, Jameson could see it all.

And no one could see him.

“You don’t have to carry me, Grayson.” Emily. Jameson would have recognized her voice anywhere. He couldn’t make out Grayson’s reply, but soon, the two of them were ensconced in the tree house, and Jameson could hear every word.

“Be careful, Em.”

“I’m not going to fall.” Her tone was teasing. There weren’t many people who made a habit of teasing Hawthornes. “Though it would serve my mother right for trying to make me stay in tonight. I mean, honestly, I think my heart could handle one little roller coaster.”

The roller coaster in question wasn’t little, and with Emily, there was never just one anything. She always wanted more.

Jameson and Emily were alike in that way.

I should have been the one to sneak her out, Jameson thought. I should have brought her up here.

But he hadn’t. Grayson had. Perfect, never-broke-the-rules Grayson was breaking them now. At twelve, Jameson had an inkling of why that might be the case. Emily was twelve, too, Grayson thirteen.

And he brought her to our tree house.

“I’m going to kiss you, Grayson Hawthorne.” Emily, her voice as clear as day.

“What?” Grayson, stupefied.

“Don’t tell me no. I am so tired of no. My entire life is no. Just this once, can’t the answer be yes?”

Jameson waited, unnaturally still, for his brother’s reply. It never came, and Emily spoke again. “When you’re scared,” she told Grayson, “you look straight ahead.”

“Hawthornes don’t get scared,” Grayson said stiffly.

“No,” Emily shot back. “don’t get scared. You’re scared all the time.”

Jameson knew an opening when he saw one. He dropped from the branch he was sitting on, catching it with his hands and swinging his body in through the tree house window. He landed rough but smiled. “I’m not.” Scared. He didn’t say the word, and Emily didn’t need him to.

“You’re not scared of anything,” she told him with a toss of her hair. “Even when you probably should be.”

Jameson looked at Grayson, then back at Emily. She and her sister, Rebecca, were the only two non-Hawthorne children allowed to spend any significant amount of time on this side of the gates. The Hawthorne brothers. The Laughlin sisters. It was a thing.

“I’ll kiss you,” Jameson offered boldly. Emily stepped toward him. “Do it.”

He did. His first kiss—and hers. Emily smiled. And then she turned to Grayson. “Now you.”

Jameson felt his brother’s eyes dart to his, but they didn’t stay there long. “I can’t,” Grayson said.

“Can’t. Shouldn’t. Will anyway.” Emily placed a hand on the side of Grayson’s face, and Jameson watched as the girl he’d kissed a moment before brought her lips very close to his brother’s.

Jameson didn’t let himself turn away as Grayson kissed her, too. Their kiss seemed to last longer. A lot longer. When it was finally over, Emily stared at Grayson. Just stared at him. And then she threw her head back and laughed. “It’s like spin the bottle… without the bottle.” For a second, she looked like she might kiss Grayson again.

“Here you are, boys.” Tobias Hawthorne’s voice was deep and smooth as he climbed into the tree house. “The festivities weren’t to your liking?”

Jameson recovered first. “You rigged the carnival games,” he accused.

That was why he’d taken to the tree house to begin with.

“Then rig them back,” the old man replied. His discerning gaze seemed to miss absolutely nothing as he raked it over first Jameson, then his brother, and Emily last.

“About what you just heard…” Grayson started to say.

Tobias Hawthorne held up a hand. “Emily.” He cast her a mild look. “Your grandfather is down below with a golf cart. Your mother is on the verge of calling in the National Guard.”

“Then I guess I should go. But don’t worry, Mr. Hawthorne.…” Emily looked at Jameson again, then Grayson, her gaze lingering there. “My heart and its defect are just fine.”

The old man didn’t say another word until Emily was long gone. The silence was uncomfortable. It was almost certainly meant to be uncomfortable, but Jameson and Grayson both knew better than to say a single word to break it.

Tobias Hawthorne reached one hand toward each of his grandsons, took them by their shoulders, and turned them toward the nearest tree house window.

“Look out there,” the old man instructed. Jameson watched as purple and gold exploded in the sky, points of light streaming downward, painting the air like a weeping willow. “Magic, isn’t it?” the old man whispered.

Jameson heard the words that went unspoken: I give you boys everything, and all I ask in return is focus.

“I didn’t have brothers,” Tobias Hawthorne commented, as another round of fireworks colored the sky red and white and blue. “Didn’t have what the four of you have.” The old man’s hands were still on their shoulders. “No one else will ever understand you the way that your brothers do. No one. It’s the four of you against the world, and it always will be.”

“Family first.” Grayson said the words, and Jameson knew, just by the way he’d said them, that he’d been told them before.

“Emily was right, you know,” Tobias Hawthorne said, suddenly dropping his hold on them. “You do look straight ahead when you’re scared, Grayson.”

He heard it all. Jameson didn’t have time to process that realization because their grandfather wasn’t done yet.

“Have I ever given you reason to fear me?” he asked—no, demanded. “Ever raised a hand to either of you?”

“No.” Jameson beat his brother to the answer. “Would I?” the old man challenged. “Ever?” Grayson answered this time. “No.”

“Why not?” Tobias Hawthorne posed that question like it was a riddle. “If it would push you to be what I need you to be, if it would make you better—why wouldn’t I get physical?”

Jameson felt like he had to answer first—and answer well. “Because it’s beneath you.”

“Because I love you.” The correction felt brutal, despite the sentiment being conveyed. “And Hawthornes protect those we love. Always.” He nodded to the window again. “Look out there. See it.” He wasn’t talking about the fireworks. “All of it. All we have, all we are, all I’ve built.”

Jameson looked. Beside him, Grayson did the same. “It was just a kiss,” Grayson said stubbornly.

“Two kisses, I believe,” the old man replied. “You tread dangerous ground, boys. Some kisses are just kisses. A frivolity, really.”

Jameson thought of the moment he’d pressed his lips to Emily’s.

“You hardly have time for such things,” the old man scoffed. “A kiss is nothing. But love?” Tobias Hawthorne’s voice was quiet now. “When you’re old enough, when you’re ready, be warned: There is nothing frivolous about the way a Hawthorne man loves.”

Jameson thought suddenly of the grandmother he’d never even met, the woman who’d died before he was born.

“Men like us love only once,” the old man said quietly. “Fully. Wholeheartedly. It’s all-consuming and eternal. All these years your grandmother has been gone.…” Tobias Hawthorne’s eyes closed. “And there hasn’t been anyone else. There can’t and won’t be. Because when you love a woman or a man or anyone the way we love, there is no going back.”

That felt like a warning more than a promise.

“Anything less, and you’ll destroy her. And if she is the one…” The old man looked first at Jameson, then at Grayson, then back at Jameson again. “Someday, she’ll destroy you.”

He didn’t make that sound like a bad thing.

“What would she have thought of us?” Jameson asked the question on impulse, but he didn’t regret it. “Our grandmother?”

“You’re still works in progress,” the old man replied. “Let’s save my Alice’s judgment for when you’re done.”

With that, Tobias Hawthorne turned away from them, away from the window, away from the fireworks. When he spoke again, it was in a tone

that Jameson recognized all too well. “There are thousands of boards in this tree house. I have weakened one. Find it.”

A test. A challenge. A game.

By the time they found the board, the fireworks were long over. “Break the board,” the old man ordered.

Jameson wordlessly held it up. Grayson assumed the proper stance, then threw his body into the strike. The heel of his hand hit the board just above the crack, and it split.

“Now,” Tobias Hawthorne ordered, “find me a board that cannot be weakened. And when you find it,” the old man continued, leaning back against the tree house wall, his eyes narrowed but burning with a familiar kind of fire, “you can tell me: Which kind of board are the two of you?”

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