“I saw Adam flexing in the windows outside the car. Call it a hunch.”
“Hazel, a normal cruise is bad enough. You really want an all-you-can-eat buffet on a budget cruise?”
“Diarrhea is never free.”
She drops back in her chair and I know I’m going to regret this.
“Fine,” I say. “But you owe me. Next time we do this, I pick what we do.”
She immediately perks up. “Next time?”
I quickly clarify. God, it’s been two seconds and she already looks smug. “If we do this again. Look, I can admit it’s been good to get out of the house. I was spending too much time at home and—”
“Playing with yourself because nobody else wants to?”
I give her a warning look. “It’s possible you were right—about the wallowing.”
“Possibly,” she says with a small smile.
“Plus—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—I just really like to win.”
“I knew it! I knew you were as competitive as me.” She points to my stomach. “I mean, a person doesn’t get abs like that without a lot of drive—”
“Everything okay?” Adam asks.
“Of course!” Hazel leans closer, reaching for his arm and lowering her voice, but I can still hear her. We can all still hear her. “Hey, would it be okay if I was on Josh’s team? He’s not very good at this kind of thing and I don’t want him to feel bad. Shaky confidence, you know.”
“I’m right here,” I deadpan.
“Of course,” Cali volunteers with a sympathetic nod. “Adam and I can team up!”
With that settled, a grinning Hazel hands out the cards. By the time I get mine, she’s already written our team name across the top: Stephen Hawking’s School of Religion.
The first round is pop culture, and at the opening question—The character Jar Jar Binks first appeared in which Star Wars movie?—she immediately scribbles down the correct answer.
The questions fly out, and by round five, we’ve somehow managed to get all of them right.
“Wow,” Cali says, looking across the table to our total, and then frowning down at their own. “Who knew you guys were so smart? Guess poor Josh didn’t need that much help after all …”
“What can I say, I’m an encyclopedia of useless information.” Hazel gives her an innocent shrug before quickly pointing to the stage. “Oh look, Dick is back.”
“Our next category—and judging by the number of Budweiser cans in the recycling bin, one a lot of you have been waiting for—sports!”
“Yes!” Adam slams a hand on the table, knocking over his beer just as Cali groans. “Fucking finally.”
“Now, this one’s a little tough,” Dick says, looking out over the room.
“Bring it!” Adam yells, full of confidence and beer.
“ESPN analyst Lee Corso played football in college. He attended Florida State in the midfifties and roomed with another player who would eventually go on to find further success on the silver screen. Who was Lee Corso’s soon-to-be-famous roomie?”
Adam looks absolutely stumped. Cali looks about two seconds away from walking out. I have zero idea who Onetime Football Player Turned ESPN College Football Analyst’s Eventually Famous Roommate could be, but when I glance at Hazel, her eyes are wide, glazed over with what I’m beginning to understand is recognition.
“I know this …” she mumbles.
“How could you possibly know that?” Cali asks. “You don’t even like sports.”
Leaning across the table again, Hazel pulls me close. “My dad loved Dolly Parton and any time she was on TV, he’d record it. He used to watch reruns of her show.”
I wait, confident she’s leading us somewhere useful. “Okay?”
“The answer is Burt Reynolds. I know it.”
I sit back in my chair. Burt Reynolds played halfback at Florida State University. She’s fucking right. Hazel Bradford is a genius.
By the time we get to the last round I can’t believe how much fun I’m having. Adam is talking to a girl at the next table and I have a pang of guilt when Cali starts playing on her phone, but Hazel and I are practically on the edge of our seats. According to the scoreboard—and with the final card to be tallied—the top two teams are tied and we need the next question to win. I’ve never wanted a terrible cruise more.
Dick has taken off his sports jacket, and shuffles a set of notecards in front of him, building up the suspense as he prepares to ask the final question.
“All right,” he says, speaking solemnly into the microphone. “This is it. It’s sudden death so we’re going to do this one a little differently. When you have completed your answer, please send a team captain to the stage so we can see if you’re correct and, indeed, the winner. Good luck, everyone.” He takes a deep breath before dropping his eyes to the card.
“The term pronoun covers many words in the English language. For the final question, name eight types of pronouns.”
Hazel puts her pencil to the paper and hesitates for only a beat.
“I only know two,” I whisper, but she’s already writing. A second later, she tears off her sheet, stands from the table, and races up onto the stage.
“Okay, okay.” Dick takes the paper from her hand. “What’s your name?”
“Hazel,” she squawks breathlessly into the microphone. She waves to the crowd and I shake my head, laughing.
“Okay, Hazel, captain of …”—he squints at our card—“Stephen Hawking’s School of Religion? Read me your answer.”
“So, Dick—can I call you Dick?”
“Many women do,” he says with a lecherous wink.
“You see, Dick, I’m an elementary school teacher, but I also have a really crummy memory.”
“That’s gotta be rough, Hazel.”
“You’re telling me. Because of this I’m always looking for ways to trick my brain.” Hazel holds up a finger and counts off as she recites, “Getting Pretty Panties Ripped Requires Real Damn Initiative. Or—general, personal, possessive, reflexive, reciprocal, relative, demonstrative, and interrogative!”
Dick pauses to check the answer before taking Hazel’s hand and lifting it over her head in victory. “What a correct, and yet totally inappropriate, response! Hazel the elementary school teacher and her partner win! We have a winner!”
“I don’t know how you did it.” Emily walks into the living room with a bowl of popcorn in one arm and a bottle of wine in the other. “Not only did you get my brother to a dive bar for a blind date, but you won a shitty cruise, and he had a good time. Clearly you’re the Prude Whisperer.”
“Hey.” I glare in my sister’s direction.
“Actually, I didn’t talk him into anything.”
I turn to where Hazel is curled up on the couch behind me and smile. Hazel: defending my honor like good friends do.
“I didn’t even have to. His competitive nature made manipulating him far easier than I’d have guessed.”
“Hey.” I glare at Hazel now.
Emily barks out a laugh, which in turn makes Winnie bark from where she’s lying across my feet.
“You too?” I ask the dog, bending to ruffle her fur. She’s as bad as her owner, a total nuisance, and yet … somehow endearing.
“My fussy brother on a budget cruise. I never thought I’d see the day.”
“Oh, don’t start worrying about him yet.” Hazel stretches her long legs just enough to encroach into my space. “The cruise isn’t until next spring. I’m sure he’ll figure a way to weasel out of it by then.”
With the movie set to play, I toss the remote to the table and turn to face her. “With that attitude, good luck asking me to send you Imodium from the mainland.”
Dave joins us in the living room. “Are you two sure you’re not married?”