I’m here today with Avery Grambs. Heiress. Philanthropist. World changer—and at only nineteen years old. Avery, tell us, what is it like to be in your position at such a young age?”
I’d prepared for this question and for every question the interviewer might ask. She was the only one I’d granted an interview to in the past year, a media maven whose name was synonymous with savvy and success—and, more importantly, a humanitarian herself.
“Fun?” I answered, and she chuckled. “I don’t mean to sound cavalier,” I said, projecting the sincerity I felt. “I am fully aware that I am pretty much the luckiest person on the planet.”
Landon had told me that the art to an interview like this one—intimate, much anticipated, with an interviewer who was almost as much of a draw as I was—was to make it sound like a conversation, to make the audience feel like we were just two women talking. Honest. Open.
“And the thing is,” I continued, the awe in my voice echoing through the room in Hawthorne House where the interview was taking place, “it never really becomes normal. You don’t just get used to it.”
Here in this room, which the staff had taken to calling the Nook, it was easy to feel awed. The Nook was small by Hawthorne House standards, but every aspect of it, from the repurposed wood floors to the ridiculously comfortable reading chairs, bore my mark.
“You can go anywhere,” the interviewer said, quietly matching the awe in my voice. “Do anything.”
“And I have,” I said. Built-in shelves lined the Nook’s walls. Every place I went, I found a keepsake—a reminder of the adventures I’d had there. Art, a book in the local language, a stone from the ground, something that had spoken to me.
“You’ve gone everywhere, done everything…” The interviewer smiled knowingly. “With Jameson Hawthorne.”
Jameson Winchester Hawthorne.
“You’re smiling,” she told me.
“You would, too,” I told her, “if you knew Jameson.” He was exactly what he’d always been—a thrill chaser, a sensation seeker, a risk taker—and he was so much more.
“How did he react when he found out that you were giving so much of the family’s fortune away?”
“He was shocked at first,” I admitted. “But after that, it became a game—to all of them.”
“All the Hawthornes?”
I tried not to smile too big this time. “All the boys.”
“The boys, as in the Hawthorne brothers. Half the world is in love with them—now more than ever.”
That wasn’t a question, so I didn’t answer.
“You said that after the shock of your decision wore off, giving away the money became a game to the Hawthorne brothers?”
Everything’s a game, Avery Grambs. The only thing we get to decide in this life is if we play to win. “We’re in a race against the clock to find the right causes and the right organizations to give the money to,” I explained.
“You set up your foundation with the stipulation that all of the money had to be gone in five years. Why?”
That was more of a softball question than she realized. “Big changes require big actions,” I said. “Hoarding the money and doling it out slowly over time never felt like the right call.”
“So you put out a call—for experts.”
“Experts,” I confirmed. “Academics, people with boots on the ground—and even just people with big ideas. We had open applications for spots on the board, and there are more than a hundred of us working at the foundation now. Our team includes everyone from Nobel Prize and MacArthur genius award winners to humanitarian leaders, medical professionals, domestic abuse survivors, incarcerated persons, and a full dozen activists under the age of eighteen. Together, we work to generate and evaluate action plans.”
“And review proposals.” The interviewer kept the same thoughtful tone. “Anyone can submit a proposal to the Hannah the Same Backward as Forward Foundation.”
“Anyone,” I confirmed. “We want the best ideas and the best people. You can be anyone, from anywhere. You can feel like you’re no one. We want to hear from you.”
“Where did you get the name for the foundation?”
I thought of Toby, of my mom. “That,” I told the whole world watching, “is a mystery.”
“And speaking of mysteries…” The shift in tone told me that we were about to get serious. “Why?”
The interviewer let that question hang in the air, then continued.
“Why, having been left one of the largest fortunes in the world, would you give almost all of it away? Are you a saint?”
I snorted, which probably wasn’t a good look with millions watching, but I couldn’t help it. “If I were a saint,” I said, “do you really think I would have kept two billion dollars for myself?” I shook my head, my hair escaping from behind my shoulders as I did. “Do you understand how much money that is?”
I wasn’t being combative, and I hoped my tone made that clear.
“I could spend a hundred million dollars a year,” I explained, “every year for the rest of my life, and there’s still a good chance that I would have more money when I died than I have right now.”
Money made money—and the more of it you had, the higher the rate of return.
“And frankly,” I said, “I can’t spend a hundred million dollars a year. Literally can’t! So, no, I’m not a saint. If you really think about it, I’m pretty selfish.”
“Selfish,” she repeated. “Giving away twenty-eight billion dollars? Ninety-four percent of all your assets, and you think people should be asking why you’re not doing more?”
“Why not?” I said. “Someone told me once that fortunes like this one—at a certain point, it’s not about the money, because you couldn’t spend billions if you tried. It’s about the power.” I looked down. “And I just don’t think anyone should have power like that, certainly not me.”
I wondered if Vincent Blake was watching—or Eve, or any of the other high rollers I’d met since inheriting.
“And the Hawthorne family was really okay with that?” The interviewer asked. She wasn’t combative, either. Just curious and deeply empathetic. “The boys? Grayson Hawthorne has dropped out of Harvard. Jameson Hawthorne has had brushes with the law on at least three continents in the past six months. It was recently reported that Xander Hawthorne is working as a mechanic.”
Xander was working with Isaiah—both at his shop and on several pieces of new technology that they were very excited about. Grayson had dropped out of Harvard to turn the full force of his mind to the project of giving the money away. And the only reason Jameson had been arrested—or almost arrested—so many times was that he couldn’t turn down dares.
The only reason I hadn’t made similar headlines was that I was better at not getting caught.
“You forgot Nash,” I said easily. “He’s tending bar and working as a cupcake taster on the weekends.”
I was smiling now, emanating the kind of contentedness—not to mention amusement—that a person couldn’t fake. The Hawthorne brothers weren’t, as she’d suggested, going off the rails. They were—all of them—exactly where they were supposed to be.
They’d been sculpted by Tobias Hawthorne, formed and forged by the billionaire’s hands. They were extraordinary, and for the first time in their lives, they weren’t living under the weight of his expectations.
The interviewer caught my smile and shifted subjects—slightly. “Do you have any comments on rumors of Nash Hawthorne’s engagement to your sister?”
“I don’t pay much attention to rumors,” I managed to say with a straight face.
“What’s next for you, Avery? As you pointed out, you still have an incredibly massive fortune. Any plans?”
“Travel,” I answered immediately. On the walls all around us, there were at least thirty souvenirs—but there were still so many places I hadn’t been.
Places where Jameson hadn’t yet taken an inadvisable dare.
Places we could fly.
“And,” I continued, “after a gap year or two, I’ll be enrolling as an actuarial science major at UConn.”
“Actuarial science?” Her eyebrows skyrocketed. “At UConn.”
“Statistical risk assessment,” I said. There were people out there who built models and algorithms, whose advice my financial advisors took. I had a lot to learn before I could start managing the risks all on my own.
And besides, the moment I’d said UConn, Jameson had started talking about Yale. Do you think their secret societies could use a Hawthorne?
“Okay, travel. College. What else?” The interviewer grinned. She was enjoying herself now. “You must have plans for something fun. This has been the ultimate Cinderella story. Give us just a taste of the kind of extravagance that most people can only dream of.”
The people watching were probably expecting me to talk about yachts or jewels or private planes—private islands, even. But I had other plans. “Actually,” I said, well aware of my tone changing as excitement bubbled up inside me, “I do have one fun idea.”
It was the reason I’d agreed to this interview. Subtly, I dipped my hand down to the side of my chair, where I’d tucked a golden card etched with a very complicated design.
“I already told you that it would be difficult for me to spend all the money that two billion dollars makes in a year,” I said, “but what I didn’t tell you is that I have no intention of growing my fortune. Each year, after I balance my expense sheet, take stock of any changes in my net worth, and calculate the difference, I’m earmarking the rest to be given away.”
“I’m sure there will be a lot more charity work in my future, but this is for fun.” There wasn’t much I wanted to buy. I wanted experiences. I wanted to keep adding on to Hawthorne House, to maintain it and make sure the staff stayed employed. I wanted to make sure that no one I loved ever wanted for anything.
And I wanted this.
“Tobias Hawthorne wasn’t a good man,” I said seriously, “but he had a human side. He loved puzzles and riddles and games. Every Saturday morning, he would present his grandsons with a challenge—clues to decipher, connections to make, a complicated multistage puzzle to solve. The game would take the boys all over Hawthorne House.”
I could picture them as children as easily as I could picture them now. Jameson. Grayson. Xander. Nash. Tobias Hawthorne had been a real piece of work. He’d played to win, crossed lines that should never be crossed, expected perfection.
But the games? The ones the boys had played growing up, the ones I had played? Those games hadn’t made us extraordinary.
They’d showed us that we already were.
“If there’s one thing that the Hawthornes have taught me,” I said, “it’s that I like a challenge. I like to play.”
As Jameson had said once, there would always be more mysteries to solve, but I knew in my core that we’d played the old man’s last game.
So now I was planning one of my own. “Every year, I’ll be hosting a contest with substantial, life-changing prize money. Some years, the game will be open to the general public. Others… well, maybe you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of the world’s most exclusive invitation.”
This wasn’t the most responsible way to spend money, but once I’d had the idea, I couldn’t shake it, and once I’d mentioned it to Jameson, there was no turning back.
“This game.” The interviewer’s eyes were alight. “These puzzles. They’ll be of your making?”
I smiled. “I’ll have help.” Not just the boys. Alisa had sometimes joined in Tobias Hawthorne’s games growing up. Oren was running logistics for me. Rebecca and Thea, in combined force, were downright diabolical in their contributions to what I had been calling The Grandest Game.
“When will the first game start?” the woman across from me asked.
That was the question I’d been waiting for. I held up the gold card in my hand and brandished it at the camera—design out.
“The game,” I said, my voice ripe with promise, “starts right now.”
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