“Are we almost there yet?” Laf asked from the back of Jon’s truck.
“What are you, eight?” Jon asked, rolling his eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Non. I’m nine and a half. You know this, Jonathan,” Laf said with a grin.
“Don’t call me that,” Jon complained.
“Aw, Jonathan,” Hercules teased from his spot next to Lafayette.
“Guys, please? Alex? Aren’t you going to defend my honor?” Jon asked his boyfriend, who just smirked and leaned over to kiss his cheek.
“No can do, Jonathan,” Alexander razzed, “But, hey, where are we going anyway?”
“Betrayed by my own boyfriend,” Jon muttered, “It’s some place the Scotts go every year. I dunno, Libby just sent me the directions.”
“Who is going to be there?” Laf asked, drumming their fingers against the window.
“Us, the Scotts, obviously, James, and Parker and his family,” Jon replied.
“Ms. Jones is going to be there?”Alexander asked.
“Yeah, and his sisters.”
“Fuck fuck fuck ,” Alex mumbled.
“What the hell did you do?” Hercules asked, glaring at his friend.
“Nothing! Nothing, I swear,” Alexander explained quickly, “She just… doesn’t like me because of the past, y’know.”
“I wonder why,” Jon drawled.
“I’m not defending Jefferson or anything, of course, because fuck that noise,” Hercules said, “but… I don’t blame her for disliking the guy whose life goal used to be to ruin her son’s.”
“Okay, for one thing, that wasn’t my life goal,” Alex said, “And me and Parker are cool now! Plus, Ms. Jones is scary.”
“Parker and I,” Herc corrected habitually.
Alex rolled his eyes. “Yes, mother ,” he said sarcastically.
“Alexander’s crisis aside,”Laf turned to address Alex, “why isn’t Daniel coming? What are he and Doddie doing?”
“They’re in Colorado,” Alex said, “Aaron has a family tradition or something, and they asked him to bring Theo since they’re basically married.”
“And we’re going out to a mystery spot to drink and light explosives? Is this what I died for?” Jon asked.
“No,” Hercules said, “You died over some rice.”
“Like a dumbass ,” Alexander added.
“Look, we’ve talked about this,” Jon said. “There was a reas--”
“No. It was dumb. That’s it.”
“Yeah, well, so was dying in a duel ,” Jon shot back. Lafayette coughed; it sounded suspiciously like ‘Charles Lee’. Jon glared at them. “Didn’t die,” he pointed out.
“You could’ve,” Laf said, raising an eyebrow, “You are, how you say, the pot calling the kettle black.”
“Laf! You speak perfect English! You’ve lived here since you were eleven! Your English is better than Alex’s. Stop it,” Hercules said, “And you guys all need to calm down. I swear I don’t know whether I’m dealing with college students or kindergarteners.”
“Hercules ‘Mom Friend’ Murray strikes again,” Alex said with a smirk.
Hercules rolled his eyes. “Yeah? Well maybe I wouldn’t have to act your parent if you acted your age,” he replied.
Alexander tapped his chin. “How do you act 260?” he asked.
Jon snorted. “By dying.”
“I do believe that option is off the table,” Laf said with another eye-roll, “Isn’t that right, my darling Hercules?”
“Ask me again after today,” Herc grumbled.
“I think we’re almost there,” Jon interrupted, “Or rather, Google thinks we’re almost there.”
“I’ll text Ange, let her know we’re close,” Lafayette said, pulling out their phone.
“Hercules? Can I ask you a very, very important question?” Alexander asked.
“Shoot,” Herc said.
“Will you protect me if Ms. Jones tries to murder me?” Alex asked.
“At this rate?” Hercules retorted. “I’d probably help her.”
“Thank you so much for inviting us, Mrs. Scott,” Ms. Jones said, “I brought coconut cookies and pasta salad.”
“Please, just call me Bethany,” Mrs. Scott smiled. “And, really, you didn’t have to go to the trouble. These look delicious,” she reassured.
“James, Parker, c’mon! I wanna show you guys the pool,” Peggy cut in, grabbing each of their friends by the wrist and dragging them off.
“Be careful!” both mothers called after their children.
Mrs. Scott turned and looked at the three little girls left standing behind Ms. Jones.
“Angie? Libby?” she called to her daughters, “Will you two come here?”
“If this is about Laf and the guys, they’ll be here in about ten minutes,” Angelica said.
“That’s great, but what I was wondering was if you two could show these little ladies around,” Mrs. Scott said before asking, “What are your names?”
“I’m Charlotte, but only Mom and Parker call me that, so just call me Charlie. This is Alice, and this is Annabelle,” the oldest girl replied, taking her sisters’ hands.
Mrs. Scott watched as her daughters shared a knowing, reminiscent smile. “We’d be happy to, wouldn’t we, Ange?” Libby asked.
“Of course,” Angelica said, leading the three girls over to the cabin.
“This is really too kind of you,” Ms. Jones said once the girls had left.
Mrs. Scott laughed. “It’s no problem, Ms. Jones. Parker is such a delight, and so close with Peggy, my husband and I just thought it’d be silly not to invite you all up here.”
“Call me Lydia,” Ms. Jones replied, “And I must say, I’m so glad our kids got to know each other. Parker’s been so alone for so long, it’s nice to see him make some real friends.”
“I actually had very similar thoughts about Libby--Elizabeth, Peggy’s older sister,” Mrs. Scott explained, “She’s always been very private because of her memories. I think they made it hard for her to relate to other kids. Anyway, it’s so great that she’s met others, and it must be some sort of miracle that she’s got her sisters, too.”
“I’m just glad they all seem so happy,” Ms. Jones agreed. “Now, where would you like me to put these cookies?”
“I'm here!” Laf yelled as they stepped out of Jon's truck, “You can all start the party!”
“Shut up, you conceited baguette,” Jon shouted, rolling his eyes.
“We brought drinks,” Hercules added, “Of the non-alcoholic variety because someone ,” he glared at Alexander, “Lost his fake I.D.”
“Aren't you supposed to be the responsible friend?” Alex asked, narrowing his eyes.
“After that car ride? I need a drink,” Hercules scoffed.
“You poor, small, underage children,” Libby teased as she wrapped them all up in a hug, “I'm on my third glass of wine.”
“And it’ll be your last glass if I have anything to say about it,” Ange chided, but she was smiling at her friends.
“Just because you pass tipsy after one and a half doesn't mean we all do,” Libby reminded her, not unlikely.
“Alex! Alex!” three little voices called, and before anyone knew what was happening, Alexander was tackled by the three littlest Joneses.
“Yo! My girls!” he exclaimed, ruffling each of their hair, “How're y’all doing? Everything cool at home? Do I need to Teach Parker a lesson?”
The three girls giggled.
“How do you poor girls know this trouble maker?” Libby asked.
“He had a sleepover with us a really long time ago, and now he plays with us when he comes to talk to Parker,” Alice said, still hugging Alex’s leg.
“Yeah. He was real sad ‘cause his boyfriend was bein' mad, so he came to our house,” Annabelle supplied.
Jon turned bright red.
“Is that so?” Laf asked the little girls before turning to Jon with a frown. “Did you know where our dearest Alexander was hiding while you were ‘bein' mad’, Jon?”
“No,” Jon admitted, and Charlie, Alice, and Annabelle all turned to glare at him.
“So,” Charlie began, “ You're the Jon that made Alex so sad.”
Alexander cut in. “Yeah, but usually he makes me very happy . He's good, girls.”
The Jones sisters kept glowering at Jon until Libby coughed.
“I guess we won't kill ‘im right now, then,” Annabelle finally said.
For some reason, Lafayette, Hercules, Libby, and Ange all found this extremely amusing.
“Hey, girls, where's your brother and his boy toy?” Alex asked, “I need to push them into the pool.”
“See, this right here is why Ms. Jones doesn't like you,” Jon said.
“Shush,” Alexander sniffed.
“He's swimmin' with Jemmy. I think they're kissin’ in the water. It's gross,” Alice said, wrinkling her nose for additional effect.
“It is,” Laf agreed readily.
“Kissing is ‘gross’ now, is it? Guess I won't be giving you any more Fourth of July kisses then,” Hercules said.
“Hercules, mon chéri, je plaisantais,” Lafayette replied, a look of horror on their face.
“I don't speak French, asshole,” Hercules rolled his eyes.
“Ooooooh! You said a bad word !” Annabelle cried, pointing at Hercules.
Jon snorted. “Nice one, Herc. See what you've done? You've corrupted the children. Look at them. Their pure, innocent ears, subjected to that kind of foul language.”
“I-I’m sorry!” Hercules sputtered.
“Tsk tsk,” Ange said, “That's a dollar in the bad word jar.”
“What bad word jar?” Alex asked, probably fearing for his wallet.
“The one in my pocket. Cough up, Herc,” Angelica said. Hercules ruefully handed her the money.
“Is it dark enough for fireworks yet?” Laf asked, shoving the last of their cookie in their mouth.
“No, silly goose!” Alice replied from the pool, “The sun is still shining!”
Jon rolled his eyes.”Yeah, silly goose. Don’t be dumb,” he added.
Laf stuck their tongue out at him. “We can still do firecrackers, oui?” they asked, “I know Hercules bought smoke bombs!”
“No firecrackers without adult supervision,” Hercules said, kissing their partner’s forehead.
“But Mr. Hercules!” Annabelle chimed in, and Hercules blushed--he was the only one who’d been given the title ‘Mister’, “Laf is an adult!”
“No, I can guarantee that they are not ,” Hercules explained, “But, luckily for them, I am. Let’s go light your smoke bombs, you dork.”
“C’mon,” Alex said, dragging Jon along with him, “I love smoke bombs.”
“Of course you do. They’re all flash and no bang--you relate,” Jon teased.
“I’ll have you know I have plenty of bang. You of all people should know,” Alexander leered.
“I know a lot of things, but that sure ain’t one,” Jon deadpanned.
“Oh, wow. Okay. Bullied by my own boyfriend, by the one closest to my heart, by the one who--”
Alexander was cut off by Charlie, who was drying off with her sisters so they could help Lafayette and Hercules with the firecrackers. “Is Jon bein’ mean, Alex? We can beat ‘im up now,” she said, crossing her arms and scowling at Jon.
“I dunno, Jon, are you ‘bein’ mean’?” Alex asked, a shit-eating grin on his face.
“Oh fu--screw off, jerk,” Jon said, rolling his eyes and kissing Alexander’s cheek. Apparently satisfied, the three little girls ran off to join Hercules and Laf.
“How the hell did you get them to like you so much? Do you have mind control powers that I’m not aware of?” Jon hissed into his boyfriend's ear.
“I’m just nice,” Alex replied.
“Bullshit,” Jon whispered.
“I let them play with my hair,” Alexander admitted, “And danced with them.”
Jon’s face broke out in a grin. “Does Parker have a video?” he asked.
“Not one that you can get to.”
“Marie Motier de Lafayette, I swear to God, you do this every year. Every year , what the heck!” Hercules shouted after dumping half a bucket of water on Laf’s previously flaming hair. The fact that he remembered to keep it PG was impressive.
Peggy blinked. “Wait, what do you mean, every year?” they asked, having run over after the first smoke bomb to join in the festivities, “This is a normal occurrence?”
“Yes! Every year since I’ve known this idiot, they’ve managed to light some part of themself on fire,” Hercules said. Laf crossed their arms and glared at their boyfriend, looking a bit like a drowned cat. “How the heck did you even do that? You don’t even have long hair anymore! And with a smoke bomb? Really?”
“What can I say? It’s a talent,” Lafayette grumbled.
“Weren’t you, like, a decorated general in the army?” Alex jeered.
Laf glared harder, if possible. “I don't appreciate this. What is this, Everyone Gangs Up On Laf Day?”
“We decided to give Alex a break today,” Hercules replied.
“Mr. Hercules?” Annabelle asked, “Can we do black cats now?”
“Only if Lafayette doesn’t light them,” Hercules replied.
Alex laughed and grabbed Jon’s hand. “I, uh… I’m thirsty. Come with me to get a drink?” he asked.
“You just finished your Pepsi,” Jon pointed out.
“Yeah, well, it’s hot out here. Please?” Alexander pleaded. Jon recognized that something was up.
“Okay, let’s go,” Jon conceded, letting Alex drag him back to the cabin.
Once Alexander had his drink--another Pepsi, and Jon was worried about Alex’s daily caffeine intake--Jon asked, “Wanna tell me what that was all about?”
“You’re a shit liar.”
There was a moment of silence before, “I wonder how Parker is doing. This is the day he--Jefferson, I mean--died. I hope--”
“That was the least smooth subject change I’ve ever seen,” Jon interrupted, raising an eyebrow.
“Jon, please,” Alexander asked, “I just… It’s not important.”
“If it’s not important, then why were you so anxious to get out of there? I know you weren’t really thirsty,” Jon said, taking Alex’s hand.
“I don’t like fireworks,” Alexander muttered.
“What?” Jon questioned.
“I don’t like fireworks.”
“You were just having fun lighting smoke bombs. Remember? You ran through the smoke like some sort of dumbass rockstar?” Jon said.
“Yeah, but smoke bombs… they’re quiet ,” Alex said, gripping his soda so tightly the can started to crumple.
“Can I ask why? I mean, Daniel told me it was because of your mom, but was that…?” Jon asked, wrapping an arm around Alexander’s shoulder.
Alex sighed and took a long drink. “Yeah, that’s the truth, or at least most of it,” he said.
“Is it the war?” Jon asked seriously. Alexander huffed a laugh and shook his head.
“Nah,” he said, trying to sound nonchalant, but it came out rather choked and broken.
“Then is it… the duel?” Jon asked quietly.
Alex winced and took another drink. “It’s stupid because I forgive Aaron, I really do, I just… dying sucked . Hearing the gun, seeing that bullet fly towards me and knowing there was nothing I could do? That that would be the end of me?” Alexander sighed. “It… it was terrifying .”
“I understand. I didn’t actually, y’know, see the bullet, or the shooter, but… yeah. Dying blows ,” Jon agreed.
“I need to get over it,” Alex said.
“What? No. You’re fine , Alexander. It’s perfectly understandable. Not even just the ‘getting shot’ bit. You saw your mom… It’s okay to not like the sound,” Jon said, kissing Alex’s cheek.
“I’m ruining everyone’s fun.”
“No you’re not.”
“No. Here’s what we’ll do. While the pyromaniacs are lighting explosives, you and I? We’ll go upstairs, blast some music as loud as we can, sit on the couch and… have our own fun,” Jon said.
“Jonathan Latham, are you propositioning me?” Alexander replied, a bit of his usual cheeky grin on his face, “A good Southern boy like yourself should know better. For shame.”
“I’m not from the South anymore, sweetheart. And we don’t have to do anything like that , we can just, y’know, make out.”
“Jon, no. You should get to enjoy the holiday,” Alex said, biting down on his lip.
“I am enjoying it, Alexander. I’m not just going to let you sit inside by yourself for the whole time. What kinda shit boyfriend would I be? Charlie and Alice and Annabelle would kill me,” Jon said with a grin.
“They would, wouldn’t they?”
“Yeah, they would.”
“Well then, my dearest Jon,” Alex said, “I guess it’s a date.”
“I guess it is.”
“You doing okay, sunshine?” James asked Parker as they sat on the hood of Parker’s mom’s car.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Parker asked, taking James’ hand.
Another firework lit up the night sky, casting a purple and red light on Parker’s face, and James’ couldn’t resist the urge to press a light kiss to his lips.
“You know why,” James said.
“Yeah,” Parker relented, turning to stare up at the sky.
“So? Are you okay?”
“You know what?” Parker said, “I think I am.”