Charlie Ever After

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o5| Tanner

“Wake up, wake up Tanner!” The tiny voice is accompanied by the giggles of two more. All three girls jump up and down on my bed. I unleash an exaggerated groan, pulling the blankets over my head. A sly smile wraps around the corners of my mouth as I devise a plan. I pull the blanket up and over all three of their little heads, tackling them down onto the bed in one swift movement.

“Ha!” I tease before peeling back the blanket from their faces. “Gotcha!” I smile at them before scooching back to let them free.

“Get up! The parade will be starting soon!” Jillian who’s six, the oldest of my younger sisters whines. Jillian worships me, following me around wherever I go, the other two younger siblings her little shadows. They went wherever Jillian went. Mia was five and April “Three and three quarters.” As she always argued.

“Alright, alright. I’m up!” I throw my arms up in defeat as the giggles ensue, reverberating around my bedroom. They jump down from my bed and run in sync through the hallway and into their bedroom, busying themselves with whatever they find to make the time go by.

I rub the sleep out of my eyes, a yawn escaping before I swing my legs over the side of bed. Once my feet made contact with the solid wood floor, a shiver races up my spine.

“Jesus, you’d think eskimos live here.” I say before standing up, lifting my arms up in a stretch, moving my torso back and forth to stretch out my back muscles. I grab a towel and walk to my attached bathroom, starting the shower; steam filing the bathroom rapidly.

After my much-needed shower I pull on a pair of American Flag board shorts; my family always got really into the whole holiday thing. We’re the kind of family that sends out Christmas cards every year with cheesy family photos attached and corny little simplicities on the back, wishing everyone in the family and close friend circle a merry Christmas and happy holidays. We do Easter egg hunts every year for the little ones and take them to see the Easter bunny. Most years the kids are kicking and screaming to get away from the hideous thing but it’s usually hilarious to watch. We love the holidays and I honestly love spending anytime I can get with them. It’s safe to say my family is my safe space.

To match my shorts I pull on a simple white v neck and a pair of white vans. I scoop a fingertip of hair wax out of the puck and rub it through my hands before running it through my hair letting it sit in its normal messy style. i

I walk down the stairs and into the kitchen, the sweet and savory smells of breakfast hitting me square in the face. “Mmm smells delicious!” I say, walking over to my stepmom Trish and giving her a small side-hug, telling her “good morning” before helping her dish out all of the food for the girls; cutting up the food on two of the three plates.

I plop the plates in front of the girls, going over to the fridge to fetch the cartons of milk and orange juice, pouring into the cups of each girl whatever they normally “ordered”.

April pushes her plate away from herself, crossing her arms in front of her chest and letting out a huff. A tantrum bomb was ready to go off. “I don’t want mine cut up like a baby!” She whines, tears threatening to spill at any moment. I brace myself and gulp down a sip of orange juice.

“April, relax!” I say trying to console her. I pick up my own plate and switch it with hers. “Here, you can have mine.” I say, hoping to god that would smooth things over, but she just whines louder and pushes the plate away.

“No,” She wails. “I. WANT. MY. OWN!” She screams, in full meltdown mode now, saying each word between sobs.

I hear the clatter in the background completely stop as Trish set down her spatula and walks casually over to the table and stands in front of April. “One...Two...” She waits in between each warning. “April, if you don’t stop it right now you’re not going to the parade and you will go to bed before the fireworks.” Trish announces in her stern voice. For the most part Trish is the nicest soul in the universe, but when need be she knows how to grab the bull by the horns. When her mom side comes out, I even cower like a dog with my tail between my legs, this time being no different.

April’s eyes are as big as hot air balloons as she promptly stops her tantrum right in its tracks.

“That’s more like it.” Trish says before returning to the stove, finishing up with cooking breakfast.

I finish my meal within a matter of minutes and was right up, helping Trish clean up. I lean over and nudge my shoulder against Trish’s. “Total bad ass, Trish.” She responds with a small laugh and a warm smile.

“And you’re such a push over. You’d let those girls have anything if they asked for it. If we left you guys alone for one night they’d run you out of town in ten minutes.” She teases, laughing at me.

I nod, considering it. “Very true.” I laugh, finishing the last dish other than the ones that were still being devoured on the table.

When I turn around there’s syrup, eggs, and pieces of pancake scattered across the entire table. “Oh boy, you guys made a mess.” I say, grabbing the multipurpose cleaner from under the sink and the paper towels from their holder. I also grab a pack of baby wipes to clean off the girls. I wipe each of their faces and sticky hands before sending them running off one by one. I roll my eyes at them letting out a groan at the mess they managed to make in less than twenty minutes; and then get to cleaning.

After the parade Dad and Trish had planned a family party. We have one every year on the Fourth. My dad, as much as he works, he loves a good family party. He throws a couple a year. This was his time to kick back, throw some burgers on the grill and bullshit with all his brothers- who has more hair then who, who has the hottest wife, who’s kids are doing the best in school and other various fatherly topics. My father is a well-known trial lawyer, he’s worked on some of the most high-profile cases up to date, but he’s a good man with a good heart. Hearing some of my father’s stories.... I had no idea how he’s able to continue to be the warm, caring and level-headed person that he is.

“Need any help?” I ask Trish, who’s setting up various dishes on a long rectangular fold out table. Trish takes a step back, hands on her hips as she surveys the neatly organized table.

“Don’t think so sweetie but thank you.” She pauses, putting a finger to her chin as if she’s in deep thought. “Actually, on second thought, could you go grab the spare cases of soda in the garage pretty please?” She asks before scurrying off to greet more family members as they arrive through the side gate, carrying more bowls and trays of picnic food.

I make my way to the garage, piling up four cases of soda and lifting them up onto my shoulders before making my way back out into the back yard. There’s a hum of energy as the backyard starts filling with people. The ages of partygoers range from infant to ancient- my great grandfather was nearing at least one hundred years old, yet he can still yap your ear off with stories of “the good ’ol days”.

I come back through the garage and into the back yard again, sliding the cases of soda underneath the fold out table; it was now piled high with various dishes. I have no idea where we’re going to put all of the leftovers.

The sounds of audacious laughter drifts towards me; there’s kids splashing around in the pool, people milling around talking- multiple conversations going on all around me, catching bits and pieces of each of them. I walk over and sit on the side of the pool, slipping off my shoes and sticking my feet into the cool water.

Jillian comes doggy-paddling over, her two little minions trailing close behind. She grabs onto my feet, holding herself up.

“When are you and daddy going to be setting off the fireworks?” She asks in her sweet little voice.

“Not till later, Jillybean. It’s only-” I flip my wrist around, checking the time. “It’s only 6 o’clock. It will start to get dark soon, probably another couple of hours. Do you think you’ll still be awake?” I tease her.

“Uh, yeah. Duh. I’m six years old now, Tanner. I can stay up super late!” She argued even though I know that she’s never once stayed up past 9:30 a day in her life. I roll my eyes playfully at her.

“Whatever you say, Jilly.” I say kicking a little, splashing her with water as she swims away after the other kids.

I turn my wrist over, carefully not to disturb the three bundles snoozing. The girls are all still wrapped up in their beach towels, sprawled out. Jillian and Mia, next to me, their heads resting on each of my shoulders, April laying on top of me. It’s 9:15.

Just as I’m thinking of a tactile plan to get all three sleeping kids off of me and in a comfortable position, my father walks up to me.

He claps his hands together. “Ready to set off some fireworks?” He asks excitement oozing out of him. My dad really loves the fourth of July. He notices the girls sleeping and lowers his voice a bit. “Need some help there, son?” I nod at him and he picks up April, who doesn’t even stir.

We set the girls up on their own lounge chair, draping their towels over them to keep them warm against the early summer breeze.

I make my way across the yard and join my father. “Think we got enough this year?” I ask with a laugh, surveying the abundance of fireworks we bought in the beginning of the week. It didn’t seem like so many then but looking at them all splayed out in front of us I could tell that this year we’re going all out.

Ever since I was little my dad has always put on a firework show for the fourth. It was what made him the most excited. He got to experience his pyromaniac hopes and dreams one day a year. Most years whoever in our town who didn’t go to the beach or weren’t on vacation they’d all come and gather in our back yard and watch our firework show. Everyone loves it, and we love having the company. My dad enjoys the fact that so many people come together to watch “his” show.

Since my father set up most of the actual fireworks into their troughs earlier in the day, all we have to do is stake them out how we wants them and set up all the fuses. My dad is old school, so we light each of the fuses by hand.

Once everything is set up to his liking, my das stands back hands on his hips and admires his work. “It’s gonna be a great show this year.” He says mainly to himself. I nod and give him a smile. The sky is now completely pitch black and half of the town is here, laying down blankets and getting comfortable.

“I’m gonna go wake up the girls. They’d be devastated if they missed this.”

“Oh, trust me, son. They won’t be able to sleep through this show.” He laughs. I roll my eyes and jog over to where my sisters are still fast asleep. I give them each a little nudge and shake until they open up their eyes.

“Guys, it’s almost time for fireworks. We’re going to shoot them off any minute now!”

Once the word firework registers in their tiny little heads, they shook up into seated positions almost in sync, all three wide awake now and bouncing with excitement. I chuckle softly and wrap them up with their towels.

“But remember girls, you have to stay back here with everyone else, okay?” They nod their head in unison. “Good.” I flash them a quick smile before straightening up and walking over to the back of the yard where the fireworks are set up. My dad already has both stick lighters in his hand. One for me, one for him.

“You ready son?” He asks, and I nod back to him.

I hold up my hand to signify that we’re starting the countdown. As soon as everyone notices they started shouting.

“5....4....3....2.....1”

My dad lights the first fuse, and the firework pops out of the PVC pipe and into the air, cracking in the sky making the loudest heart stopping boom as the colors light up the sky. I run up to the second fuse and light it, listening as it goes flying out of the piping and exploding in the sky a rainfall of gold flecks falling around us. I jump back and watch the sky, the colors coming and going leaving huge puffs of smoke behind.

I hear the yells of excitement, the oohs and the ahhs of the spectators all around me and I try to scan the back yard for the girls, but the thick clouds of smoke make it near impossible to make out anything other than just shapes.

Dad and I go back and forth, lighting the fuses one after the other as we gear up for the big finale. Each year it got better and better because dad always made sure to do his research.

Each firework that shoots up into the sky immerses the night time with a beautiful array of lights making it seem just for that moment that it’s daytime again until the light diminishes, and we’re left in the dark again.

When it’s time for the finale, my father and I simultaneously light the fuses one after the other in quick succession. I step back and look up at the colors as they rain down over the entire yard. I smile to myself and close my eyes as I let my mind wrap itself in a memory.

“Tanner, Tanner, look!” Tessa points up at the night sky, at the pink firework that had just cracked high up over the beach. “It’s so beautiful! Pink, my favorite color!” Tessa, my twin sister exclaims as she keeps pushing and pulling me, trying to draw my attention to the light show in the sky. I’m too focused though on trying to play football with our older brother Tristan, and his friends.

“Tess, stop. I see!” I groan, looking up just to appease her. Us being twins, we were close but there were plenty of times where Tessa was more an annoyance than anything. I see her frown and it pulls on my heart strings but I run off with my older brother anyway.

When the firework show comes to its end, Tessa comes to find me. “Tanner, do you want to come watch the finale with me? Please?” Tessa’s the only girl in the family other than my mom, but she’s out at the bar on the pier with her friends. It’s just us kids left to fend for ourselves and watch the fireworks.

I look around and give Tessa a smile, nodding my head. “Okay, Tessa. Fine.” I say, grabbing her hand as we walk back to where her blanket is set up on the sand. Before we sit down, Tessa pulls me in and wraps me in a big, tight hug.

“Thank you, I love you Tanner.” I look over at her and teasingly punch her shoulder.

Then the next day she was gone.

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