Olivia curled up on her beanbag, her thick, sound cancelling headphones firmly secured around her ears. The booms and pops of fireworks surrounded her, occasionally accompanied by cheers and whoops. “Make it stop,” she mumbled to herself. Though she couldn’t quite hear the deafening booms of the fireworks under her reggae music, she could still feel the shockwaves. They just keep coming. They’re just a bunch of bombs and everyone shoots them around and loves them for some stupid reason.
In the week since Amanda and Rob had escaped their kidnappers, everything returned to a semblance of normal. Beth occasionally stopped by, and Red kept to herself. In preparation for the Fourth of July, Ben hung up a large American flag over the center garage door of the lair, and Rob hammered together a charcoal grill.
Olivia winced as she felt another round of particularly loud fireworks. I liked it when we grilled things. Can’t everyone just do that some more instead? Everyone else sat up on the roof, whooping and cheering with each round of explosions. Olivia reached for her third burger, sitting on a paper plate beside her. At least Rob knows how to make food.
After about half an hour, the finale began. The whole lair vibrated nonstop for a full minute. Olivia simply frowned and tried to tune it out. Eventually, the shaking stopped and the back door opened, letting fresh air with a slight hint of gunpowder waft into the room. Olivia looked up to see the others stumble in, beers in hand and smiles on their faces. She lifted her headphones from her ears, pausing for a moment to make sure the fireworks were well and truly over.
“Don’t love America, Little Bird?” called out Rob, arm around Amanda’s shoulders.
“What? No, I just don’t like fireworks,” she replied.
“What’s wrong with fireworks?” asked Amanda.
“Too loud,” she murmured. She stood up from her beanbag, keeping her clawed feet on the concrete floor and away from the beanbag, and headed to join them.
“Of course! Celebratin’ the goddamn US of A!” cried out Ben, raising his bottle.
“Yeah!” replied Rob, tapping his glass against Ben’s. So?
“How about you two sit down?” said Amanda, guiding Rob towards the center table. She turned around to see Miya still standing by the door, swaying on her feet. “You too, Miya.”
“Are you OK, Amanda?” asked Olivia
“I only had a few drinks, I’m fine. Unlike these idiots, I know about this little thing called moderation,” said Amanda. “It’s wonderful.”
“Because she’s boring!” called out Miya, following after Amanda and Rob.
Rob collapsed on the chair Amanda pulled out for him, Miya following suit soon after. What’s so great about getting drunk? That just looks terrible. “How did you guys get down from the roof?” asked Olivia. All you guys have is a ladder to get up and down from there.
“Very slowly and carefully,” replied Amanda.
“You know what we should go out and get?” Ben asked his brother. “Some fuckin’ flag shirts. Or ones with eagles on ‘em. Whatever. Let’s go!”
“No, Ben,” said Amanda. “You’re in no shape to drive.
Ben chuckled and raised a middle finger towards her, teleporting to Rob’s workbench and grabbing his keys. “See, I’m fine.”
Amanda’s eyes widened. She pointed to Olivia, closest to Ben, and said, “Stop him.”
Olivia took one long step forward and wrapped her arm around his waist just as he turned around before he could teleport again. “No,” she said, ignoring his uncoordinated flails as she lifted his feet from the ground. They stood for a moment, Olivia waiting patiently for Ben to give up. Rob and Miya burst into laughter.
Finally, he dropped the keys to the ground. “You two ain’t fun,” he grumbled.
“And you’re an idiot,” replied Amanda. I’m sorry, Ben, but she’s right. “Olivia, could you bring him over here where we can keep an eye on him?”
Olivia carried Ben underarm to the table, where she sat him between Miya and Amanda. He rested his head on the table and slurred, “I can walk you know.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” said Amanda. “You all drank way too much.”
“She’s right, I think I’ve had more…” Miya trailed off, a queasy look on her face.
Uh oh. Are you OK? “Do you need a bucket?” asked Amanda. Is she going to throw up?
“I’m OK, I’m OK,” said Miya, taking in a shaky breath. “I’m good now.”
Amanda exhaled deeply, leaning back in her chair. In the lull in the conversation that followed, Olivia took her own seat, curling her tail around so that it lay under the table and out of the way. She rested her arms on the tabletop, checking on the others. Amanda seemed fine, fingers flying over the screen of her phone. The others either stared off into space or focused on keeping their dinners in their stomachs, drinks forgotten. Miya’s smile had vanished, replaced by a frown and drooping eyelids.
Olivia cast a sidelong glance at a sixth, empty chair. Chris and Ben never finished that bottle of absinthe. Ben swayed slightly as he tapped his fingers on the plastic table. Although maybe he has now.
“Did you guys have fun?” asked Olivia.
“Yeah. You should have been there with us,” replied Amanda. “The more the merrier.”
“If it’s just the noise you don’t like we can just get you some heavy duty earplugs or something,” commented Amanda. “The fireworks are still fun to watch.”
Olivia shrugged. “I don’t know. They’re OK, I guess.”
“Just OK?” asked Ben with a crooked grin, his words a bit slurred. “It’s a fuckin’ American tradition!”
“Please calm down, Ben,” said Olivia, her voice level. Please stop shouting at me. She heard a soft snore from Miya. See? Miya’s not shouting.
Amanda covered her mouth as she laughed. “It’s only ten.” She looked over to Rob, who’d been staring off into space since they’d gotten back into the lair. “Are you alive?”
Rob blinked a few times before responding. “What? Yeah, just tired. And we started at five, right? Am I remembering right?”
Amanda said, “That’s true. How about we get you all to bed.” She punched Rob in the arm and said, “Besides, we need to get to work on our cars again tomorrow. Come on, I’ll grab you a drink of water.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled. He pushed his chair back and stood up. “Feels too early, though.”
“We haven’t slept for the past two days,” said Amanda. “Things kept going wrong with that damn truck of yours, and I expect that trend to continue.”
Rob sighed in defeat. “You’re right. I’m out.” Olivia scooped up the snoring Miya and carried her over to her bed, following after him.
“That was dumb of them, right?” she asked Amanda, once she heard Rob lay down. I’m not misjudging, am I? Back at the table, Ben moved from tapping his fingers on the table to tapping them on his brown glass bottle.
Amanda laughed and said, “Let’s see how they are tomorrow. That’ll be your answer. Don’t worry.”
“I think I’ll going to head out for the night. Do you want me to take Rob’s keys?” I don’t trust Ben when he gets stupid.
“No, I was going to lock them up in my desk” said Amanda. “Oh, and be very careful out there. You never know when someone is going to shoot more fireworks off.”
Olivia frowned. It’s not over? “Maybe I’ll just visit Red then. Or I could read.” She stood up straighter. “Oh, yeah! I’m almost done with this one book. I could read that!”
Amanda shrugged, a small smile on her face. “It’s up to you, I’m going to bed. Good night.”
Olivia waved as Amanda left. “Good night.”
The night passed uneventfully. Olivia curled up with a couple books until the early hours of the morning. Then the early hours of the morning passed to noon, when Amanda, Rob, and Ben finally woke up. Everyone seems fine. Ben still looks tired, though. But what about Miya?
“Do you think we should wake up Miya?” asked Olivia.
“Hey Miya!” called out Rob at the top of his lungs. Olivia heard a whimper from where Miya lay.
“OK, that was low,” said Amanda.
“Don’t be mean,” added Olivia with a frown. She’s still alive, at least.
“I regret nothin’,” said Rob with a grin. Beside him, Ben snickered.
They ambled about with their breakfasts. Rob sighed as he shook his box of dry cereal. “We need a kitchen in here,” he said.
“What? No we don’t,” scoffed Amanda.
“Just cuz you eat nothin’ but noodles and carrots don’t mean the rest of us can’t have nice things. Besides, I like cookin’,” he replied. “Think about it. Real food.” That does sound good. We eat too many burgers.
“We don’t got the money for a whole kitchen,” said Ben.
“Yeah, I’m saying me and Amanda could make it.”
Amanda choked on her cereal for a moment. She caught her breath and said, “Our armors aren’t done yet. We just tore out my car’s engine again. We’ve barely even touched your car. We don’t need any more projects.”
“So are you tellin’ me you can’t handle this? Just makin’ a simple kitchen?” Amanda’s eyes narrowed as Rob grinned.
“New question,” she said. “Where would we put it? We’re running out of room in here. I don’t see where we could put one.”
“We just make a small one. Don’t have to be big an’ complicated.”
“My god, they’re already domestic,” said Ben, eyes widened in mock horror.
“No, I’m tryin’ to come up with a new project,” replied Rob, flipping him off.
“I’ll think about it,” said Amanda. “Let’s get at least one of our other projects done first. How about that?”
Rob shrugged. “Sure. Just an idea.”
At that moment, Miya climbed out of her bed and stomped over, eyes only half open. “Why does everyone think it’s so fucking funny to wake people up. And why is it so fucking bright?”
“Good morning to you, too,” said Olivia. I’m sorry Rob is mean.
Miya grunted in response, taking a seat one over from Rob. “Hey Rob,” she called out. The moment he turned towards her, her hand shot out in a quick jab to his nose. “Fuck you.”
Before Amanda or Olivia could react, Ben and Rob burst into laughter. Rob held a hand to his bleeding nose and said, “Worth it.” He stood up and reached for a roll of paper towels to staunch the blood.
“Maybe we need to move outta here,” said Ben. “Gettin’ kinda claustrophobic.”
“What do you mean?” asked Olivia. I thought this was home.
“We got no runnin’ water, we got all five of us livin’ here, we got no more room, we got almost no privacy. This place is probably gonna get stupid cold come winter.”
“Yes, but this place is free,” said Amanda. “We don’t have that much money, we haven’t done a job in forever.”
“We need something to do,” grumbled Miya. “If we’re bored enough to start drinking at four or five in the afternoon, we’re doing something wrong.”
“I’m with Amanda. We need a job or somethin’,” added Ben.
“Do you want to be a little more specific?” asked Amanda.
“I don’t fuckin’ know. Just tell me what to shoot and I’ll shoot it.” Hasn’t there been enough shooting? Can’t we do something else?
“The Company always needs shit done,” said Rob. “Hell, I think they want someone to take out some Bratva dude. He stole from them or somethin’, an’ I’m thinkin’-”
“No,” said Olivia, cutting him off.
Rob blinked in surprise. “What?”
Sorry. “Can we do something where we don’t have to hurt people instead?”
“But money,” said Miya.
“I know, I’m sorry. But if we go with that one I think I’m going to have to, you know, not do it.”
“I don’t think we can afford to be picky,” said Miya.
“Yeah, it’s not as though we got jobs rollin’ in every day of the week,” said Rob. “The Company can have a dozen different people do that. They’re payin’ pretty well, too.”
“I know. And I’m not stopping you guys. But I think I’ll pass,” replied Olivia.
“Yeah, but I really don’t like the idea of fuckin’ with the Russian mob without you havin’ our backs,” said Ben. “That could go ugly really fast.” I know, I’m sorry.
“Alright. How about this?” broke in Amanda. “A friend of mine from college needs some help. She asked for my help a couple days ago, I haven’t gotten back to her yet.”
“Help with what?” asked Rob.
“She’s worried the wrong people have interest in her research. It’s something to do with biology. She sounded pretty spooked over the phone.”
“Why didn’t she just go to the cops?” asked Miya.
“She did. They shrugged her off, apparently. She just wants us to guard her lab while she goes out of town for a couple days.”
“She just askin’ for you?” asked Ben.
“No, it’s more just a general ‘help me in any way’ kind of deal. We don’t have to kill anybody, or attack or anything like that. She just needs some guards. Does that sound alright, Olivia?” asked Amanda. That doesn’t sound bad. Olivia nodded. “Anyone else? Questions? Concerns?”
“Sounds good,” said Rob and Ben simultaneously, Miya nodding in agreement.
“OK,” said Amanda as she produced her phone from her desk. “I’ll let her know so we can get details.”