We’d all nodded sagely. When those three got together to ‘fix’ something, it usually ended up being worse than a drunken sailor/truck driver convention. Every other word out of their mouths was fuck, shit, damn, or asshole. And that’s just when they first get there. I’d walked in with Leah one morning for Sunday breakfast and they were taking apart a lawn mower…let’s just say the air was blue, my ears were burning, and I learned new words that day.

Then we laughed when it hit us, after which we’d crowded around the window to see Luke dragging the plastic pool into the yard from the garage. We hadn’t budged, either, when Brandon had come in the back door near where we were all peeking out the window to get tomato juice from the massive stash of cans in the laundry room.

Emma had started stocking up on it when Doug had decided to become best friends with the skunk in the woods. It was kind of a one-sided relationship; Doug loved the skunk, the skunk hated Doug. And let him know it by spraying him at least once a week. Still.

Luke had tried everything to get rid of the thing, but to no avail. I guess running from the woods gagging about a half dozen times cured him of his ability to try; well, that and Emma laughing her ass off at him each time it happened.

Brandon had shaken his head at us, smirked, loaded down a laundry basket with about a dozen and a half of the large cans of tomato juice, grabbed the can opener, and walked back outside without saying a word. We’d found out, by watching out of the window, of course, that it wasn’t just Doug that got sprayed this time.

Nope. This time, DJ had gotten it, too. We weren’t too sure how Grady had managed to avoid it, but no way were any of us going outside to ask. Hayden had tried but Jenna had told her no. In fact, I think her words were, “if you want to go outside and smell like a stinky skunk butt, then go ahead. But you’ll have take a tomato juice bath outside just like the dogs.” She’d quickly lost interest then and had gone back to coloring.

“Oh, shit!” Emma shrieked, then laughed uncontrollably (and we did, too) as we all watched Luke make a dive for DJ, who’d managed to get the front half of his body out of the pool, and miss, therefore belly flopping in the middle of the juice-filled pool. Which then, since he was kneeling on the other side of the pool dousing Doug with tomato juice, soaked Brandon with a tidal wave of juice, causing him to let go of Doug.

What ensued after could only be described as gut-wrenchingly hilarious; Luke and Brandon tried to wrangle the dogs back into the pool, rinse them off with the tomato juice, and then wash them with shampoo, while Jackson stood off to the side shouting directions. It ended with Luke, Brandon, and Jacks all dripping wet, their clothes stained red with tomato juice, and covered in suds. I say AND Jacks because Luke and Brandon got tired of him laughing, chased him down, and wrestled him into the juice pool.

And all the while, Grady was sitting in the shade a few feet away, watching everything with a grin on his little doggy lips.

When everything was cleaned up, including the guys (thankfully Brandon still had a few clothes at Emma and Luke’s), they talked us into merging girls’ day with guys’ day. Of course, we were pretty sure it was just so they could chow down on our munchies and didn’t have to fend for themselves.

After they cleaned us out of pretty much everything we’d made, except for special sundae makings, we all sat talking in the living room for a while, passing babies around and petting dogs that would come up for random loving. That’s when the 4th of July party finally got mentioned.

My brother nodded immediately, as soon as Leah brought it up. “Hell yeah!” he said. “I’ve got dibs on fireworks!”

Brandon and Luke both scowled at him. “No, fuck no, you don’t,” Luke hollered. “The last time you picked out the fireworks, you came home with pansy ass smoke bombs and sparklers.”

“Hey!” Emma cried. “What’s wrong with sparklers? I love sparklers!”

Luke turned to her, his face softening. “I know, sugar, and there’s nothing wrong with sparklers.” He turned his head and glanced at Jackson out of the corner of his eye. “If you’re a girl.”

Jackson’s eyes narrowed. “I was 17 at the time and bought them at the grocery store. It was all they had,” he grated out through clenched teeth.

Obviously, this was an argument that had been ongoing for some time. One I hadn’t heard of, before, either.

Brandon jumped in. “Screw you both, I’m getting the fireworks this time, and I’m taking Calland with me. No way in hell will he pick out anything pansy-assed like you two would,” he smirked.

Geez. Boys and their explosives.

Allie clapped her hands to get their attention and said, sweetly, “How about all of you go together over to Shelton’s and get them? But you better do it soon since we now have four days to get this thing planned.”

She looked over at Leah. “Why the hell did you wait so long to plan this thing, anyway?” she grumbled.

Leah just smiled and shrugged. “Last minute thing, but who cares? Let’s plan this party!”

We all got down to business then, the guys calling Calland to determine the best time to make the trip to get the fireworks, while we discussed food, drinks, and time.

“I say we just plan it for like three o’clock. That way we can still do a cookout or whatever, we still have time to swim if we want,” Emma paused, glancing at Allie for confirmation that swimming in their pool was an option.

Allie nodded. “I was gonna say we could do most of it over at our house then, so we could swim and things.” She sighed and stared off into space dreamily. “I love having my own pool now…”

“Yeah, moving on,” Emma said, laughing. Allie laughed with her and nudged her shoulder. “Since we pretty much live on the same property, our yards combine to be a pretty huge party platform, right?” she asked Allie.

Allie nodded again, clearly wondering where Emma was going with this.

“What if we did an old-fashioned picnic party with games and things?” she said, excitedly.

Leah looked perplexed. “What do you mean, old-fashioned?”

Emma rolled her eyes. “You know, long table-cloth covered tables, pot-luck, tug-of-war, three-legged races…like they used to do back in the old days like you see on TV!”

“Uh…” Luke broke in, shifting Everly down against his chest from where he’d just had her lifted up in front of his face, kissing her chubby little cheeks. “You aren’t planning on inviting the whole damn town like the old days, are you?” he asked cautiously.

Emma opened her mouth to answer but Allie cut her off. “You’ve been watching too many reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and you are now banned from watching To Wong Foo, too. Seriously, woman.” Emma scowled but Allie continued, “We can play the games and everything, we can do the potluck, obviously, because what cookout party isn’t a potluck? On a side note, I’ll be asking Emma’s mom to bring her homemade mac & cheese because I’ve been craving that shit-”

Jackson jumped at this, swinging around, his eyes getting huge. “Craving? Did you say craving?” He glanced worriedly down at the content baby in his arms, but we could clearly see that he would be completely fine with knocking Allie up again. He loved being a dad. It was so cute!

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