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“It’s nice to see the kids acting more like themselves again,” Dee said, peeking around the curtains in her and John’s bedroom. The Pike kids, along with the BSC, had transformed the backyard into a tropical wonderland.

“Me too,” John agreed, from where he was sitting on the bed and lazily loosening his tie. He sighed. “You know that I wasn’t thrilled about having to cancel our vacation either, but if I have to listen to Vanessa’s ‘Ode to a Dead Vacation’ one more time, I’m not sure that I’ll be able to keep a straight face.”

The thought of Vanessa’s poem made Dee turn around, grinning playfully.

The first ten times they’d heard the poem, recited by a solemn Vanessa, it had put a sinking feeling in their guts. It was pitiful and heart-breaking, as if they hadn’t already felt bad about calling off the trip. Now, since their kids were in much better spirits, it was a much different story.

Oh, carefree days of Sea City, how I long to be with thee…

“Nooo,” John moaned, burying his face in their pillows.

Sand and ocean, music and light… days of happy, sunny delight…” Dee continued mischievously in a sing-song voice. She settled herself next to John on the bed, gently tracing a fingernail up and down his back.

But the stupid car did sigh and die,” he muttered bitterly, his voice muffled.

“It was a curséd car,” Dee reminded John in her best sullen tone, even as the corners of her mouth turned upward. She withdrew her hand and laid her head on his back, inching her fingers close to his sides.

“Fucking car,” John muffled into the pillow.

That was the moment Dee had been waiting for. Her fingers attacked his stomach, tickling him mercilessly. Predictably, he was sitting up in bed within a matter of seconds, instantly on defense. Dee didn’t let up, so John playfully tried to wrestle her hands away from his stomach. He was trying not to laugh. Too hard. Dee went at him at full force, until they were both laughing so hard that it hurt.

It worked. It always worked.

“You’ve always been ticklish,” Dee mused once she’d regained control of herself. John leaned against the headboard for support, trying to catch his breath. “I like it. It makes getting my way much easier.”

John quirked an eyebrow.

“Oh, really?” he inquired. His voice still sounded a bit raspy.

“Really,” Dee confirmed, a teasing glint in her eyes. She reached forward to lightly touch John’s cheek. “But maybe we can both get what we want. The kids will be outside for hours…”

“Mmm,” John pulled Dee toward him, so that her head was resting against his chest. “And what would that be?”

Fifteen years and eight kids later, Dee still smiled at the silly feeling she got in her stomach when she rested her head against her husband’s chest, listening to the relaxing thump-thump-thump of his heart-beat. She toyed with the bottom buttons on his shirt.

“I think,” she said softly, tilting her head back to meet his gaze. “That we both know what that is.”

---

Much later, Dee was snuggled against John’s chest again and he had a hand on her thigh. He murmured something in her ear that caused her to playfully smack him.

“What is it?” he asked amusedly. “You don’t agree?”

“Oh, John,” she sighed. She did her best to appear annoyed, but failed. “Don’t even try that. It didn’t work when we were twenty-five, and it doesn’t work now.”

Seconds later, he’d shifted position so that he was on top of her, lightly pinning her wrists to the mattress. He showered her with kisses on her stomach, then moved to her chest… and then her neck…

Dee mentally cursed him. John still hadn’t grown up; he could be such a tease.

She hated it. And she loved it.

He kissed her forehead and both of her cheeks.

Then he was bending down again, about to press his mouth against hers...

Agh!”

Fire!”

Get them!”

In the tree!”

War!”

This is nofe-air! NOFE-AIR! NOFE-AIR! NOFE-AIR!”

Dee easily broke free from John’s grip on her wrists and jumped out of bed, alerted by all the shrieks coming from outside. Utter chaos was a part of every day life on Slate Street, but this was loud even for the Pikes. She quickly threw on John’s green robe, securing it around her as she drew back the curtains.

She wasn’t surprised by all the running, screaming children launching water balloons at the apple tree. She smiled as she looked on at her kids and their friends playing in the backyard, relieved that everything was fine.

“Water balloon fight,” she explained to John as he swung his legs over the bed and pulled on his jeans. “Everything is --”

She’d been staring out the window, watching as Claire screamed about the balloon fight being unfair (and then threw several water balloons at Nicky’s back when he wasn’t looking) when a blast of water came out of nowhere, right through the window, and soaked her. Completely caught off-guard, Dee stood at the window for several seconds, her mouth forming a perfect ‘o.’

All the kids outside had gone silent.

One of the triplets (at this distance, it was hard to tell which) was settled on a low branch of the apple tree, the water-hose held limply in his grasp. He was gaping at her.

Dee stepped away from the hand and spun around on her heel. When she faced John, she’d had time to get over her shock. She was smirking.

“… you were saying?” he asked with a knowing grin.

Your sons” -- John loved how the triplets were his sons when they were in trouble, and Dee’s sons when they brought home their report cards and received good grades -- “are going to pay.”

As she hurriedly slipped out of the robe and pulled on fresh clothes, John didn’t ask any questions. He didn’t need to. He’d caught the playful glint in her eyes, he knew exactly what she was going to do. He tossed her a shirt and said: “I had to take the gun from Nicky yesterday, it’s under our sink. Need me to drive the get-away car?”

---

The Super Soaker was right where John said it was. She hummed as she took her time filling it with water, imagining the looks on the triplets’ faces when she showed up to retaliate. The triplets weren’t the only ones who knew how to stage a water-war.

---

John followed her downstairs and she practiced her best stern look on him. Once she’d gotten the okay (“Perfect,” he’d said, pretending to shudder. “I’m already getting high school detention flash backs.”), she slid the back door open. She used her other hand to hold the Super Soaker behind her back.

The backyard was still silent.

“Byron, Adam Jordan, over here,” she called firmly. Once they were all lined up in front of her, she added, “I have only one thing to say to you…”

She knew John was peeking out the kitchen window. She whipped the Super Soaker out from behind her back and sprayed her sons, grinning hugely.

“Got you back!” she exclaimed triumphantly, continuing to shoot as she backed into the house. She was laughing so hard that it hurt.

Moments after Dee closed the kitchen door, she heard the kids resume their balloon fight. She threw the Super Soaker in the sink and smiled at John. “Am I a cool mom or what?”

---

It didn’t take long for the excitement over the water fight to wear off. Dee and John curled up on the couch together, sharing a bowl of popcorn. How Harry Met Sally was playing, but neither of them was really that interested in the movie.

“Now... where were we again?” Dee prompted, her arms wrapping around his neck.

He kissed her on the mouth.