The first time I met my brother, I was lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood. All I knew was that I was twelve again, and I was somewhere in my hometown, and panic was clutching at my chest as I ran from house to house, knocking on every door to no response.
The driveways were full of cars. Sprinklers chuffed in lazy arcs, water streamed down cracked sidewalks into suburban gutters. House after house was lit from inside with a warm glow, but nobody was home.
At one house I crept close to the dining room window and saw a table set for five, roast chicken and vegetable sides on trivets, still steaming hot from the oven, but no family sitting down to eat. It was as if I'd happened on the scene moments after they'd all left in a hurry.
I turned away with a shudder, and there he was. A boy my age or slightly younger. Short, pale, and with a mop of dark hair. I froze, and he half-smiled, apologetically.
"Do you want to play?"
I felt myself nod and realized that I wanted nothing more. I didn't care who this boy was or where he'd come from because at least I wasn't alone out here.
"What's your name? Mine's Jake."
"Peter," I said, and fell in step behind him as he turned and walked briskly over lawns, pushed through hedges and came to a wooden gate that led to someone's back yard. His house, I assumed, but I wasn't going to ask any questions.
The yard was just big enough to support a few square feet of grass and a patio, most of which was taken up by a glass-topped table and canvas chairs that had seen better days. The table was stacked high with board games I didn't recognize. Miller's Intent, Cacophony and The Bee's Circumspection were stacked next to Outrage!, The Language and more.
Jake pulled a solid grey box from somewhere in the back of the stacks and opened it to reveal an equally featureless game board. He handed me a game piece that was nothing but a silver cube with rounded corners, while his own piece looked like a half-melted silver man.
We set these on opposite corners of the game board — small grey boxes surrounding another, larger grey box — and then he placed a spinner in the middle of the board. The spinner was a flat circle with a rotating red arrow attached, and that lone bit of color seemed too intense by comparison.
Jake spun first, and I watched his expression turn serious as the arrow spun in ever lazier circles before coming to rest pointed at my knee. He grunted, then moved his piece three spaces forward and two back. He sat there, staring intently at his piece for a long moment, and I wasn't sure whether his turn was over until he looked up at me and raised an expectant eyebrow.
I spun the arrow and held my breath, unsure of what might happen next. When the arrow came to rest, Jake breathed out with an audible "ah" and said, "Okay. You have to ask me a question before you can move."
"Who are you?"
Jake looked surprised at this, then smiled, saying, "I'm your brother, dummy."
Of course he was. How could I have forgotten? We'd always played games together, for as long as I could remember. I'd missed him so much until that moment, and when I realized it, I could almost feel the ache unraveling in my chest, tendon by tendon.
I tentatively reached over to move my piece. Once I'd moved it four spaces, Jake nodded with satisfaction and spun again. It was dark now, but the table seemed to be producing its own light, and it was still easy to see the board, to watch the arrow spin and blur as its tip rotated between us.